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Ignore the imposter syndrome and put yourself forward

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Angela Priestley

f you’re questioning whether you can, should or deserve to be a role model to other women, consider this: 50% of the world’s female population is now under 27.

That’s a stat Holly Ransom shared during a panel discussion in Melbourne on Monday night, following a speech by Dr Kirstin Ferguson on the social media movement she created, #CelebratingWomen.

The stat was raised in the context of imposter syndrome, and a discussion looking at why women don’t always put themselves forward or believe they are worthy of praise and recognition for their achievements. Whenever Ransom feels like holding back, she said she considers who might be watching, and the example she can particularly set to younger women.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson had earlier addressed the almost 200-strong crowd at Australia Post on why she decided to start the process of celebrating two women online every day in 2017. She came up with the idea on a beach during the Christmas holidays and initially started by profiling her mother via a series of social media posts. She’s since celebrated more than 500 women.

Ferguson intentionally profiles women by never sharing their surname, and also asks them to describe what they do without providing a job title. She believes this is a great way to level the field and ensure a wide range of women put their names forward. She does not vet the profiles, and simply publishes them in the order that she receives them – which means the project has also organically celebrated a diverse range of women.

Still, Ferguson said she regularly encounters women who don’t believe they are worthy of recognition. “I had a heart & lung surgeon who suggested she shouldn’t be included because she hadn’t done anything special,” she said. “There is an engrained reluctance from women to put themselves forward, to say they are proud of what they do.”

Board director Holly Kramer said that she has experienced imposter syndrome, and shared how she’s moved through four stages of feminism. It started with being oblivious, moved on to denial, then to awareness and finally advocacy.

“Imposter syndrome? We all feel it,” Kramer said. “I don’t always have the confidence. I sometimes fake the confidence. I often have little chats with myself to work on that.”

Asked by moderator Pip Stocks where she gets her confidence from, Holly Ransom said it comes from mentors like the two women she was sharing the stage with. “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to raise a young woman. I’ve been the beneficiary of a wonderful army of mentors.”

Ransom also learnt at a young age that if she saw something she did not believe was OK, she could find a way to do something about it. “My grandmother would say, ‘if you walk past it, you tell the world that it’s OK’.”

Ransom also recommended Amy Cuddy’s book Presence, which discusses how power poses and other physical actions have a proven capability to help perform under stress.

When the three panellists were asked for strategies on confidence and putting yourself forward, Ferguson said it can be as simple as starting to write about what you have expertise in. “Write about things you already know about. Tweet about those things. Write a LinkedIn post, it can be a gentle way of sharing what you know.”

Holly Kramer recommended finding your “authentic voice” and using it to describe what you’re really about, “Without Donald Trumping the world .. Do it ripple by ripple, with a purpose to inspire others … You can’t let the lowest common denominator control how you tell your story.”

All three panellists agreed that it helps to hunt for your like-minded tribe – supporters who will celebrate your work. They noted this particularly when an audience member stood up and shared the negative reaction she sometimes receives from male colleagues in the tech sector when they find out she’s been the recipient of a women’s tech scholarship.

The panellists also noted the importance of inclusion, sharing the analogy that: “Diversity is about being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

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