By Emma Duke
I changed roles recently.
Well ok, it was a promotion. I became a Head of Communications.
This role is simultaneously the most exciting job I never imagined existed and the most terrifying. I am ambitious. I’ve spent most of my career making the case to my bosses that I’m doing enough to progress to the next level.
And yet when I got into this role I kind of froze. I sit on a Board, full of people with extensive experience in their fields and of the part of the business we operate in. I make decisions that impact other people. I advise leaders of businesses across the globe.
Very quickly, some unhelpful internal voices piped up: “What am I doing? I can’t do this! I’m just a girl from Streatham who likes unicorns!” I constructed a scenario in my mind where I had basically manipulated my way up and then been struck by dumb luck.
It took about six months for me to realise I was suffering from Imposter Syndrome.
Realising this was the biggest breakthrough. It gave me the opportunity to work through all the reasons why I was here, all the work I’d done, right decisions I’d made, and pay attention to the fact that my Board colleagues were listening to my advice.
My manager is hugely supportive and reminded me that she makes quite good decisions (like appointing me to this role). I did a lot of reading and spoke to people I respected.
Turns out I’m really not the only one. From Neil Gaiman, who says he used to have elaborate fantasies of someone knocking on his door to make him stop writing and get a real job, to Jodie Foster thinking she’d be forced to give back her Oscar; it turns out that feeling like an imposter when things are going well for you is pretty common.
And then it struck me: does PR suffer from Imposter Syndrome?
Is that the reason why our profession has sometimes struggled to be considered a management function and sit on Boards?
We struggle to measure what we do, but we’re getting better, and yet we still find it hard to argue our case at the top – is that because other people don’t value PR, or just that we’re reluctant to demonstrate it?
Public Relations professionals have stopped companies from making catastrophic mistakes. We listen to the voices inside and outside of our organizations to help them strike the right tone, and we pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong.
At a time when building relationships with empowered customers and consumers is more important than ever, the PR skillset is critical to business success.
I don’t think I’ll ever rid myself of Imposter Syndrome.
And as a friend (and fellow ‘Imposter’) said to me recently, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: humility is important. It keeps you grounded.
But I think it’s time that, as a profession we think about what’s behind this lack of confidence and the reasons why we deserve a seat at the table.
Emma Duke is Head of Communications, Oxford Education at Oxford University Press.