This blog post shares some key points and highlights from the Inspiring Women Series event on Wednesday 22nd July, hosted by the Women’s Network. In this edition of Inspiring Women, we were joined by Anita Boateng, who spoke about her career, imposter syndrome, confidence and so much more. Take a look at some of our key takeaways from this conversation below.
- ‘We tend to do well in academia and work hard, where the biggest metric of achievement is grades or skills acquisition and then realise once in the world that others do not automatically place confidence in you from your accolades. So you need to have your own self belief to propel yourself’- Anita shared that she had a big moment where her confidence wobbled, but she quickly understood that lack of confidence is often what makes you worse at your job. Questioning yourself uses energy that could be used in other ways and it’s worth remembering that you will meet many other people and over time come to realise that they do not know what they are doing either.
- ‘You have things that you are confident about and things that you are not, so find opportunities to exploit the things that you are confident about’- Speaking quickly can be a way to discount your words. Try to reassure yourself that what you are saying is good, take that moment, and make your point because it has value. Always ask people that you know and trust what you are good at to help build your confidence and get even better at the things you do well, and somewhat better and the things you struggle with. Anita also discussed the importance of preparing for everything. Prepare aloud and practice what you want to say, listen to your voice and get used to hearing it and projecting it.
- ‘If men have anything, they have the audacity’- The brash brand of confidence that men often have, can often come from a source of insecurity in a hypermasculine culture which is damaging for women, but puts difficult expectations on men as well. Men or others of privilege are often guilty of giving an opinion out of self belief rather than evidence. Remember to stop putting others on a pedestal. If you have a problem, think through how you would solve it, and then ask someone else what they would do, it is often unlikely that they come up with a solution that is something you have never thought of. This helps you take them off the pedestal.
- ‘Coach yourself through a crisis of confidence, don’t just submit to it’- In Anita’s career, there are many moments that others have assumed she has a more junior role or less responsibility than she had, being mistaken for a secretary, intern, etc. This led her to question whether she was projecting lack of authority. In these moments you feel embarrassed, but telling the colleagues that you trust about your feelings can help affirm your place and help you overcome this. Speak to others who are more senior, make them real by creating connections. In moments of self doubt, imagine if you were speaking to someone else, how would you advise yourself in these situations where you feel like an imposter. Give yourself the advice you would give a friend in your position.
- ‘As bad as it is, Anita is used to hearing offensive or inflammatory remarks in the workplace’ - She has felt that she can’t come out and be angry about that, particularly as a Black woman. So it is a really hard situation, she tends to call her parents to vent and let it all out. However, it is important to set and reinforce boundaries, this is something that can be hard to manage but it helps contribute to someone else's learning. Ultimately, there is always a push and pull around “calling someone out”, but you should draw a boundary. This is something that Anita regrets not doing more often.
Books to recommend: Anita loves biographies, there are not many people that are black women in politics, so it is hard for Anita to find literature to show her the pathway to a great career in politics as a black woman but she does recommend:
‘Becoming’- Michelle Obama: A book about Michelle’s roots and how she found her voice, as well as her time in the White House, her public health campaign and her role as a mother.
‘This boy’- Alan Johnson: A book about Alan Johnson’s childhood and his experiences in politics.
Quotes from Anita in the audience Q&A:
'You don’t have to be the best person for the job; perfection should not be a hurdle. You do not need to tick every box. Show that you are ambitious and stretching yourself. You don’t need to be the best, only the best version of yourself’
'Don’t ask, don’t get. Anita’s example of asking to be made a producer at question time from an assistant producer position. She thought she was working to the level above and went in to have the conversation & was made a political producer. The WORST they can think about you is that you are ambitious, and that is not a bad thing. Once you start asking, it is much easier to do it again’
'Understanding others in your environment and how they respond/what they are like is a key soft skill. This makes a big difference in navigating workplace challenges. Know that it is not going to be perfect all the time and that can be comforting once you accept it’
'Anita is a great believer in therapy. It is like a tune up and helps you to reflect on what is going on. The things that are the best about you, can become some of the worst if not managed properly. Therapy helps with self-awareness and managing your self perception’
'So many moments where you don’t know what to do with your career, because there is no blueprint for success. There is no way to know that you are on track, but you can know if you are enjoying it or learning from it. As long as you are doing one (or even both) of those things, you are doing something worthwhile. There is no magical path from A to millionaire’
'Worst advice ever: You have to stay in your role for 3 years before you progress. But that is untrue, don’t get stuck somewhere for an arbitrary amount of time and follow a path that excites and challenges you. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on something even if you feel that you haven’t done the time’