Overcoming the Self Doubt that Fuels Imposter Syndrome in Women

So here’s my dirty little secret: I’m an imposter.

There, I said it. It only took me 20 years, and lots of sleepless nights worrying about what other people might think. But now that it’s out in the open, the truth, I believe, will set me free.

What I’m talking about—for those business associates and friends who might be a bit nervous at this point—is the much-discussed “imposter” syndrome. That’s the phenomenon whereby high-achieving individuals think they don’t belong—that they’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before everybody figures them out. It’s an idea that’s been around since the 1970s, when a U.S. psychology professor by the name of Pauline Rose Clance started studying the issue amongst her students.

Back then, it was largely seen as a “women’s” issue. But since the study came out nearly 40 years ago, Clance and others have realized it’s something that men feel in equal measures—but don’t verbalize. I can relate. As the CEO and majority owner of a successful tech company, and someone who has served on numerous boards, I work mostly with men—men of varying levels of accomplishment and talent. But what unites them all, at least superficially, is an outward confidence that they belong.

On paper, I should belong too. I’ve lead Webnames.ca for 17 years—a profitable and growing company with no debt. We’ve built relationships with Fortune 500 clients around the world and have a widely admired corporate culture. I’ve won several local and national awards for entrepreneurship and leadership. And yet every time I walk into a room of my peers, my heart skips a beat and the nagging self-doubts resurface. Why am I here? Did somebody make a mistake in inviting me?

While the imposter phenomenon affects men and women in equal measure, what doesn’t strike with such parity is confidence. A recent Harvard Business Review article makes it clear: there is an undeniable “confidence gap” between the sexes, and it’s having a profound impact on who chooses what professions—and who ultimately climbs to the top. The problem is particularly acute in science- and technology-driven organizations like mine: of my employees, fewer than 20 per cent are women, including only one who actually works on the technical side of our business.

So what can be done about it—this confidence gap, this lack of female representation in the field, this feeling of “not belonging” for those who do make it to the top? I think the answer is three-fold. First, we need to find ways of encouraging girls earlier in life to believe that the maths and sciences is a viable pursuit. At Science World, data collected by UBC professor Andrew Baron indicates 26 per cent more boys than girls under the age of two are being brought to the facility’s Living Lab—that’s a decision being made by parents that has long-term implications. The school system also needs to create equal opportunities for excellence. In B.C., the provincial government has taken an important step by introducing mandatory coding courses into the K-12 curriculum—but teachers play a critical role too in ensuring girls get equal airtime, as boys are often quicker to put up their hands.

Secondly, companies need to go out of their way to attract and retain female employees. That’s something I’m hyper aware of at Webnames.ca, where just five out of every 100 technical job applications we get is from a woman. While an increasing number of employers offer flexible work hours and family-friendly policies to encourage women to stay and grow within a company, it’s not enough. We need to put women in leadership roles—and mentor them toward that goal—to ensure better representation within our ranks, and build clear paths for promotions and raises.

Finally, we, the female leaders of the business world, need to speak out more—to be both seen and heard. That’s what I’m doing. As a younger woman, I had a huge fear of public speaking. But I was determined to confront it, taking courses at the Dale Carnegie Leadership Centre to try to lick the problem. It still took another decade of pushing myself to accept those stress-inducing speaking offers. Now, I regularly speak to audiences in the hundreds—and with each passing speech, each passing year, it gets a little easier. I also make an effort to take on a young woman in technology as a mentee each year so they can learn from my mistakes and we work on planning out career/life goals


When there’s more of us “girls” sitting around the decision-making table, giving keynote addresses, or passing on our learnings, I think it’s only a matter of time before the confidence gap shrinks and that sense of not belonging starts to abate. But until then, we need face our fears head-on—and embrace our inner imposter.



Cybele Negris (cybele@webnames.ca) is president, CEO and co-founder of Webnames.ca, Canada’s original .CA registrar. She is also the founder of Webnames Corporate which specializes in managing large and complex domain portfolios for Canadian corporations and institutions.

Originally published in Business in Vancouver, February 2017.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Has the Best Leadership Brand of All?

The benefits include: quicker job promotion, enhanced business relationships, greater credibility, and a deeper sense that you are living and working in line with who you really are. Sounds pretty important, right?

The reality is very few individuals actually take the time to carve out their brands because they are so busy with the day-to-day duties of their jobs. Also, a lot of people just don’t know how to create and deliver a brand.

Fair enough, not everyone was a marketing major. But for those who do take the time to strategically step back and look at what your professional brand really is and what you want it to be, you will be professionally ahead of the pack.

Before I started my Life and Leadership Development firm, Potential Unlimited, I worked for a variety of corporations, including General Motors and UPS. I was hired to help them build and turnaround their brands. I really enjoyed this work and had a lot of success in this area. I decided to translate this expertise into my business by now working with individuals as part of my coaching to help them develop and build their brands to set them up for success.


Know your values

Your brand at work will reflect who you really are. Take some time now and think about what is most important to you. If you say family is top priority and then you are never home because you work 24/7, then either you are really unhappy as you are living out of line with your values or else there may be other values that trump family. This doesn’t make you a bad person if family is not number one, but just take the time to know what is most important to you. This is where you should put your greatest focus.

Own your brand

This means that you need to stay true to yourself. So if part of your brand is to be a strong, fearless leader, then when you are in the meeting with your superiors and the meeting starts to take a turn away from what you feel is best, you need to speak up.

Be consistent

One of the greatest ways to build a strong brand is to continue to execute in a way that is consistent with the brand you’ve laid out for yourself. Consider, every time you walk into a Tim Horton’s coffee shop, you can order from the same menu. You see the same uniforms on the staff and you are greeted in the same manner. Human beings generally like to know what to expect. The more times a customer frequents Tim Horton’s and sees the same type of environment and service, that continues to reinforce that brand in his/her head.

So if part of your brand is to be a caring leader and a co-worker or employee hears you talk about someone else in a negative way, you start to lose your credibility. At some point, that individual may wonder if you may be talking behind their back too, so the brand you are building by your actions is not a positive one.

Communicate your brand

You may think you have a brand, but if you are not telling others about who you are and your areas of expertise, than nobody knows your brand. Consider what would have happened to Pepsi if it didn’t embark on advertising and PR campaigns. Now, I am not suggesting you run a billboard campaign featuring a picture of yourself right outside the doors of your company. What I am talking about here is owning who you are and clearly communicating the expertise you bring to the job. The way you communicate this message will help relay your brand. For instance, if you pride yourself on being a straight shooter, than when talking to your boss about an issue, saying something like, “I see your point, but I’m going to tell you exactly what I think. I believe we need to…” and then share the benefits of doing things in the way you suggest.

Use metrics

I am a big fan of putting metrics around the work I do. I want to see I am driving value for my clients and it is important for them to see how far they have come. In the case of brand building, I use a 360 tool when coaching my clients that is specifically formulated to measure a variety of dimensions including an executive’s current brand. This tool measures what the executive sees as his/her current brand and what others around them perceive to be the brand.

I find this dose of reality about gaps that exist around perceived and real brand presence to be eye opening and transformational for leaders. At this point, we can then work on how to bridge the gaps to deliver the brand they desire to portray and to live.

Blogger Carey-Ann Oestreicher, MBA, BA (Hons.), Chief Engagement Officer, Potential Unlimited

Recipient of a Top 40 Under Forty Business Achievement award, Carey-Ann Oestreicher, owner of the career development firm for women, Potential Unlimited (www.potentialunlimited.ca), holds a MBA and has worked in a variety of senior positions including vice-president level. Her focus is her family and helping women in business find true peace and happiness in their lives while achieving new heights in their careers.

Carey-Ann has been featured in a variety of media because of the success she has experienced with her holistic approach to developing women leaders and entrepreneurs. Her appearances include: CTV’s Canada AM, TSN, CBC News, Global Television, City TV News, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Business magazine, The Toronto Star and The Canadian Press.

New “Mentorship Fundamentals” guide features insights and tips from female executives about fostering lasting mentorship relationships

TORONTOMay 25, 2017 /CNW/ – As part of their ongoing efforts to promote professional mentorship with female executives, the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) and American Express Canada have partnered to release “Mentorship Fundamentals,” a practical new guide designed to help women start, structure and get the most from their mentorship relationships.

Both organizations believe that mentorship opens up opportunities for professionals at any career stage, from high-powered executives to junior employees. The right mentorship strategy can help an aspiring executive plan a career move, get feedback on a project or expand their professional network.

“Mentorship can be your window to the professional potential you have but just can’t see yet. It’s one of the best ways for leaders, women in particular, to get the support they need to take their careers to the next level,” says Sherri Stevens, Owner and CEO of WXN. “Plus, mentorship is beneficial to both parties involved. The mentee gets advice and the mentor gets a fresh perspective, a personal connection to the next generation.”

American Express Canada has made mentorship and sponsorship core components of the organization’s work environment, helping to play an important role in its commitment to creating an inclusive culture dedicated to gender diversity and the development and advancement of women.

Thanks in part to the Women at Amex initiative, which involves all levels of the organization, women now represent 60 per cent of all Amex Canada’s employees, and 43 per cent of the leadership team, while the board of directors is comprised of 50 per cent women.

“Building and fostering a culture where executives can play a role in nurturing the next generation of promising female talent through mentorship is key, but it isn’t always easy to know where to start,” says Catherine Finley, Vice President of Human Resources, American Express Canada. “Through our partnership with the Women’s Executive Network, we want to continue to spread awareness about the power and impact of mentorship, while encouraging all levels of executives to participate in it either as a mentor or mentee.”

“Mentorship Fundamentals” is available as a free download, along with videos of advice from participants in the WXNWisdom Top 100 Mentoring Program.

About the Women’s Executive Network (WXN)
At WXN, we inspire smart women to lead. WXN delivers innovative networking, mentoring, professional and personal development to inform, inspire, connect and recognize our global community of more than 22,000 women, men and their organizations. WXN enables our partners and corporate members to become and to be recognized as employers of choice and leaders in the advancement of women.

Founded in 1997, WXN is Canada’s leading organization dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women in management, executive, professional and board roles. WXN is led by CEO Sherri Stevens, owner of the award-winning, multi-million-dollar Workforce Management Company Stevens Resource Group Inc., which she established in 1990. In 2008, WXN launched in Ireland, followed by London, UK in 2015, creating an international community of female leaders.

About American Express Canada
American Express is a global services company that provides customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success. The company provides innovative payment, travel and expense management solutions for individuals and businesses of all sizes. In Canada, American Express proudly employs over 1,600 Canadians, and is the recipient of the 2017 Canada’s Best Diversity Employers award for its exceptional workplace diversity, inclusion programs and initiatives to support the career advancement for women.

SOURCE Women’s Executive Network 

For further information: To schedule interviews with representatives from WXN, American Express Canada or a Top 100 Mentor, please contact: Leah DiRenzo, @Work Program Director, WXN, 416-361-1475 x 224, ldirenzo@wxnetwork.com

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden Featuring Maureen Jensen – Chair & CEO, Ontario Securities Commission

Maureen Jensen – Chair & CEO, Ontario Securities Commission 
by Jessa Chupik & Joanna Goncalves

THE ONTARIO SECURITIES COMMISSION Chair & CEO, Maureen Jensen, has taken on the challenge of regulating capital markets participants in an era erupting with disruptive technologies. She has navigated her career by rising through the ranks in mining, followed by a move into capital markets regulators. Now at the helm of the OSC, Maureen is driving diversity in the boardroom. Boyden’s Jessa Chupik and Joanna Goncalves sat down with Maureen to talk leadership and the power of diversity.

BOYDEN: How has your career path shaped your leadership style?

MAUREEN: I am very practical, which comes from my science background, and believe in staying informed. I surround myself with incredibly smart people who are intellectually curious. I lead by weighing their opinions, gathering information and then moving forward with an informed decision.

BOYDEN: How are you navigating the OSC through this disruptive time for industries?

MAUREEN: The financial services industry is in the midst of disruption. Our rule framework is based on face-to-face interaction with people. Now consumers increasingly prefer digital methods to getting things done. It’s not surprising to me that people who prefer to arrange a ride with an app or order products online, also would rather invest through a robo-advisor. Dealers want to deliver these faster, mobile services, but the current framework doesn’t always mesh with these emerging business models. This is one of those fundamental changes that has to take place, and we need to balance it so that investor protections are in place. We’re working directly with the FinTech community, specifically through our OSC LaunchPad program, to ensure that regulation is in step with innovation.

BOYDEN: OSC is well represented with a diverse management team and more than 50% women on its board. How does diversity, gender or otherwise, fit the OSC’s mission?

MAUREEN: Our mission is about fair, efficient markets and strong investor protection. To be able to balance so many interests, it’s important to understand different aspects of the business, consumer protection and the capital markets. The diversity initiative was started by our previous chair, Howard Wetston, who looked at this as a fairness issue. This was not about window dressing—this was about having different conversations at the boardroom table.

BOYDEN: Is one woman enough to add a diverse perspective in the boardroom?

MAUREEN: I know a lot of powerful women directors who have been the single voice. In that role, they widely advocate for what they think is the right thing, but their opinion is then perceived as the woman’s view instead of a board member’s view. As soon as you have two or more women, it becomes less about gender. It is about realizing equality amongst board members.

BOYDEN: What do you see as the tangible benefits of having a more diverse leadership team?

MAUREEN: Gender balance at a board level is critical for governance. Having different viewpoints at the table helps ensure you don’t end up with groupthink, which is a detrimental practice for any corporation, public or private. We need diversity to have well-managed companies, which is vital to our economy and vital to Canada’s future.

BOYDEN: Since the introduction of “Comply or Explain,” we have seen some incremental improvement in terms of the representation of women in executive officer and board roles within publicly listed companies. Are you satisfied with the progress so far?

MAUREEN: “Comply or Explain,” along with other proposed federal and provincial targets, are starting to move the needle, but progress is slow. While many of Canada’s largest companies understand the value and are making meaningful improvements in this area, there remain many public companies in Canada that really don’t see this as anything more than the securities commission meddling in their affairs. That is really quite unfortunate.

BOYDEN: What are the obstacles preventing greater representation of women in these critical roles?

MAUREEN: There are four things. Firstly is the low turnover on Canadian boards and that is the same globally. Secondly, there is a mind-set that collegiality trumps strong viewpoints and due process. The third thing is recruitment processes have typically looked at a very narrow group of people within small networks. Lastly, our view of leadership in Canada at the senior company level has always been so narrow, which makes the whole board pool quite small.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone striving to lead?

MAUREEN: Take some risks. If you want to serve on a board, understand how a board works. Every person has something special about their past and career they can bring to the discussion—it’s important to understand the unique value you bring. When it comes to rising in a company, nothing beats hard work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to recognize that. It’s important to know what drives you, make it visible and to surround yourself with people who will empower you for the value you bring.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About the series:

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden is a feature series highlighting leadership, talent and diversity discussions with top leaders of today. The series focuses on topics and themes with a purpose to inspire women and our diverse community to lead. Talent Talks also appears on Boyden website.

About the authors:


Interviewers – Jessa Chupik & Joanna Goncalves

Jessa Chupik, Principal, Social Impact / Higher Education Practice, and Joanna Goncalves, National Director of Marketing and Client Experience, are part of Boyden’s Toronto team. A global leader in executive search for over 70 years, Boyden is committed to excellence in leadership and values diversity as an essential force towards achieving this commitment.

Twitter: @humanehr @Joanna_mbg @BoydenCanada

The Real Impact of Diversity 50: Where board-readiness leads to board appointments

Corporate director and financial expert Wendy Kei has over 25 years of business experience in various industries, including 13 years’ experience in the mining industry. She has additional expertise in corporate governance, financial and risk management, and executing complex mergers and acquisitions.

Having such outstanding qualifications should be enough for executives like Wendy to secure an appointment on an FP500 or Fortune 500 board and offer them a fresh, diverse perspective—right?

Not necessarily.

In 2012, WXN’s sister organization the Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC) launched Diversity 50, Canada’s national database of qualified, diverse candidates for corporate board of director appointments. This database helps Canada’s largest companies source the top-level talent needed to compete globally. Executives looking for an FP500 or Fortune 500 board appointment apply for a spot on the Diversity 50 list to help increase their visibility and expand their professional network. It’s about closing the gap between qualified candidates and the boards that need their diverse perspectives and experience.

As a 2016 Diversity 50 candidate, Wendy shares her thoughts on the importance of board diversity and how being on CBDC’s list helped her break into the right circles and secure her recent FP500 board appointment at Ontario Power Generation (OPG).

CBDC: Why is board diversity important to you? Why should it be important to other professionals and corporations?

Wendy Kei (WK): Board diversity is very important to me especially as a woman who has spent over 10 years in the mining industry. Everyone has different skills, expertise and experience. Board diversity provides a broader perspective and often boards are at their best when there is diversity of culture, thinking and perspective.

Diversity is important to all businesses and professions and not just in the boardroom. Having a diverse workforce often leads to better-risk management, increased innovation and stronger collaboration.

CBDC: What made you decide to submit an application to Diversity 50?

WK: Back in May 2015, I had been appointed to the board of a publicly traded gold mining company and was also appointed as the chair of the Audit Committee. After spending time as a corporate director, I decided to pursue this as a new career path. Finding my next corporate directorship role was challenging since the majority of vacancies are not publicly recruited and the competition is strong. It was suggested to me by one of the 2014 Diversity 50 cohorts to apply. I decided that my skills, expertise and experience including spending a year living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories made me a strong contender for selection as a Diversity 50 candidate.

CBDC: How did the Diversity 50 program help you to prepare for your most recent Board position?

WK: Diversity 50 provided the necessary exposure to recruiters and networks that facilitated my recent Board appointment. Since the November announcement, I have expanded my network and made more connections especially for corporate board roles. I have also made numerous connections within my Diversity 50 cohorts. Diversity 50 also strengthened my view that boards are actively seeking board diversity.

CBDC: Now that you have been appointed to the Board of Directors of Ontario Power Generation how will this impact your career and professional growth?

WK: I am very excited about my appointment to the board of Ontario Power Generation (OPG). The OPG appointment is high profile and provides me with the opportunity to work and learn from a large well-managed corporation.  Additionally, it affords me the opportunity to contribute to an organization that impacts the lives of every Ontarian including my own family.

CBDC: Why would you recommend the Diversity 50 program to other executives?

WK: The Diversity 50 program provides companies with access to diverse board-ready candidates that might not currently be in their network. The exposure to the Diversity 50 program along with the networking has been invaluable to my expanded success as a corporate director.

Each year, CBDC introduces 50 board-ready candidates to directors and senior executives of Council Member companies at exclusive receptions held in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Since 2012, there have been 34 corporate board appointments among these candidates: 31 appointed to FP500 boards and three to Fortune 500 boards.

If you are interested in applying for the 2017 Diversity 50 cohort or would like to learn more, please visit http://boarddiversity.ca. The application deadline is June 15th.

Apply  now

Disrupting Tradition: How to Prepare for Being the Only Woman at the Table

People are saying that we’re living in an “era of disruption”—a time of change that affects political, social and economic climates across the globe. Because trends are unpredictable, it’s difficult to plan the next move for your career, organization or even today’s 3 p.m. board meeting. There are alarming, even scary, parts to living/working world that’s hard to predict (did you get the memo about the reality TV star who now possesses nuclear launch codes?!).

But when it comes to your own career and the difference you can make on a personal or organizational level, there are ways to view this time of change positively. What better moment to stand up—and out—offering a fresh perspective as the outsider or only woman at the table than when people and organizations are already forced to look for alternative solutions?

Now, that doesn’t mean change will come easily. But what good thing does? Here are some tips to get you started on your road to disrupting tradition.

  1. Show Up

…at the meeting/conference/networking event. You can’t make an impact if you’re not present. It may be intimidating when you know you’re going to be of a minority in the room, so start with reframing your thoughts around why you’re there. What personal goals could this help you meet? Are you standing up for a larger cause? Could it help build your knowledge or confidence? Is there another person who could use your support? Being the second woman in the room can make just as big of a difference as being the first. Hang on to this “why”—whatever it is. It can be your greatest asset when navigating new waters.

  1. Find Your Voice

…even when your inner critic is telling you to be quiet. Listen carefully to the discussion with your “why” in mind. It may help you stand your ground if your ideas aren’t immediately welcomed. Come to the table not only with possible solutions but also possible problems to those solutions—get ahead of the naysayers in the room.

  1. Prepare for Pushback

…for that time when someone calls you “bossy” or some other derivative of it. Whether you view the label as good or bad, “the word implies that ‘someone is assuming, or exercising, authority they’re not entitled to. They’re overstepping their bounds,’” according to Gabrielle Adams of the London Business School. Decide ahead of time how that word is going to make you feel: Do you embrace the label, like Amy Poehler? Or fight against it, like the #banbossy campaign?

Facebook COO and best-selling author Sheryl Sandberg suggests calling out bias before it surfaces. “The ‘too aggressive’ penalty is just one of the findings from Women in the Workplace 2016,” she writes. She describes a freelance film director going in to pitch, “but instead of diving into why she deserved the project—and the money that came along with it—she began with the following: ‘I just want to say up front that I’m going to negotiate, and the research shows that you’re going to like me less when I do.’” According to Sandberg, the strategy worked.

Giving you the “bossy” label is someone else’s effort to put you back in your place, in “bounds.” But you are not here to fit in. You’re here for your “why.” Remember that.

Want to learn more from those who have embraced disruption, built grit and carved their own path to success? Join us for a “Disrupting Tradition: Stories on Taking the Road Less Travelled” networking event featuring a range of speakers from different industries, disrupting different traditions.

Coming soon to a city near you!

Toronto, May 19th

Calgary, June 7th

Vancouver, June 8th