A 2016 study found that when men pitch their business ideas to investors, they’re often met with “promotion-focused” questions, like what they hope to achieve and how they hope to grow, while women are asked “prevention-focused” questions, like what the potential risks and financial losses could be. Gender bias in a boardroom may seem trivial—like a patronizing question or pointed remark—but when women only receive 2.2 percent of venture capital investments, you realize that the consequences of such behavior are very tangible. How can women be blamed for having “imposter syndrome” en masse, when they’re regularly undermined and told their work and ideas are not of equal value?
As a woman who got her start in the most notorious boy’s club, the tech industry, Hayley Leibson is familiar with both battling her own imposter syndrome and successfully overcoming it—all while securing $5 million in funding. She is a Co-Founder and COO of Lunchclub, which she describes as “an AI super-connector that makes introductions for 1:1 lunch and coffee meetings.” Basically, it alleviates some of the awkwardness of IRL networking, making it apparent what someone’s intentions are. Trying to break into a new industry? Looking to make connections who can help you find VC funding? Lunchclub encourages you to be transparent about what you want from a potential coffee sesh. It’s currently invite-only, and is live in San Francisco/Bay Area, NYC, LA, Seattle, Boston, Austin, Toronto and London.
Although this is a new venture for Leibson, it’s hardly her first experience with the tech world. In 2017, she started Lady in Tech, a blog and brand designed to inspire millennial women to pursue careers as tech entrepreneurs. Taking her own advice very seriously, she eventually became the co-founder she is today, and defied the odds by being part of the 2.2 percent of women who could secure funding. But, as you can imagine, it wasn’t as easy as pitching to investors and immediately securing a check. Leibson first had to challenge her own struggle with imposter syndrome. Find out below how she keeps it in check, and even uses it to her advantage as a successful tech founder.
1. Know what imposter syndrome is, and what it isn’t. Leibson first learned about the term in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Imposter syndrome is when someone doubts their abilities and second-guesses their accomplishments, and has a deep-rooted fear of being exposed as a fraud. “It’s important to recognize the ‘imposter voice’ that’s working against you rather than for you,” says Leibson. “Imposter syndrome is very different from actual fraud—like Billy Mcfarland from Fyre Festival and Elizabeth Holmes from Theranos, for example.”
2. Recognize that most women are right there with you.According to clinical psychologist and author Dr Jessamy Hibberd, 70 percent of women and over 50 percent of men have experienced imposter syndrome. Leibson is adamant that no one is alone in feeling like they aren’t worthy or capable—even the most experienced and knowledgable women in their field can feel that way.
3. Time to unlearn.“Do the work to become aware of negative thought patterns that hold us back to create a new mindset,” Leibson says. “I started using Simple Habit’s guided imposter syndrome and thought detox meditations every day.” She also recommends taking inventory of your social circle, and examining whether or not the closest people in your life are, in fact, supportive—or if they’re contributing to your confidence issues. You’ll be forced to ask yourself hard questions throughout your career, but it’s all in the name of pursuing your best self.
4. Reframe your mindset to one of curiosity.Know that there is value in feeling the way that you do. “Believing you are an expert fools you into believing you know the answer. And you are less likely to be open to new information and less willing to do things in a different way,” she says. “Rather than let my lack of expertise paralyze me, I’ve used it as an opportunity to look at problems differently.Building great products is often less about experience and more about the ability to test, learn, and iterate.”
5. Build a brilliant network, to reflect how brilliant you are.“I had very few contacts in VC when I first started, so I made a list of dream angels and VCs, who had recently invested in businesses I admired,” says Hayley. “Cold DMing on Twitter and attending industry events has been really beneficial. It’s important to get honest advice from people who have really been through the trenches.” When you surround yourself with people who are invested in seeing you win, your goals feel that much more possible.
6. The biggest antidote is being super prepared. The simplest and most effect way to keep your imposter syndrome in-check is to know what you’re talking about. “Have a clear process for fundraising. Meticulously plan all the people you want to get in touch with and practice your pitch a ton of times with friends or founders with who you really respect,” she says. “If you do your research and know the industry, you’ll effortlessly exude confidence.”