Mind Over Matter: the intersection of mental health & women leaders

In this #YesSheCan blog, we explore the intersection of mental health and women’s leadership.
Within the dynamic and complex field of leadership, women frequently face distinctive mental health challenges as they navigate their roles in their careers.
From burnout, imposter syndrome and the never-ending pressure of societal expectations, it’s important to develop strategies for mindful leadership and cultivate mental health.

Burnout and Societal Pressures

The pursuit of success tends to come at a high cost for women in positions of leadership. Juggling numerous responsibilities, combating gender biases, and aiming for perfection in a world that rarely truly recognises their efforts and achievements, burnout is an inevitable result.
According to Mental Health UK, 59% of working women reported feeling more inclined to extreme levels of stress than the previous year, 44% reported their employer lacked a plan to protect them from burnout and 31% reported being unsure about the availability of workplace support for maintaining wellness.
It’s no secret that women face enormous pressure from societal expectations and gender norms. The notion that women are expected to show assertiveness, nurture and humility adds layers of complexity to their professional journey. According to research by Melissa Williams and Larissa Tiedens, women leaders are subjected to harsher scrutiny and face greater backlash for assertive behaviour compared to men in similar positions.
For change to happen it is crucial for all, including other leaders and those in positions of power, to prioritise women’s well-being in leadership, implement supportive policies and practices, and create environments in which their contributions are recognised and valued. Only through concerted effort can we construct a future in which women may prosper without jeopardising their mental health.

Imposter Syndrome

The imposter phenomenon is a term originally coined by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes individuals fail to internalise their skills and or accomplishments but rather attribute their success to luck and often live in fear of being exposed for being a fraud. Although imposter syndrome is present in both men and women, in Dr Clance and Dr Imes’ clinical experience, men experience it with less intensity compared to women.
In 2011, Dr. Valerie Young published her groundbreaking book, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” building on years of research on the imposter syndrome. In it, she breaks down the five different ‘types’ of individuals with Imposter Syndrome: The Perfectionist, The Superwoman/Superman, The Natural Genius, The Soloist and The Expert.
These categories demonstrate multiple ways in which imposter syndrome manifests itself in individuals and highlight the different underlying thoughts and mental processes that contribute to beliefs of fraud, despite deserved accomplishments.

Self-Care: Nurturing the Leader Within

In the face of an unpredictable environment, women in leadership positions should prioritise self and mental care. Here are some strategies tailored for nurturing mental well-being:
  • Acknowledge and Normalise: Recognise that imposter feelings are common and normal, particularly among high achievers. Understanding that many people have similar doubts might help decrease the impact of imposter syndrome.
  • Establish boundaries: set clear boundaries between work and personal life to avoid burnout. Delegate tasks when possible and learn to say no without guilt.
  • Seek Support: Create a network of mentors, peers, and mental health professionals who can offer advice and encouragement.
  • Practice Self-Compassion: Self-compassion can help you overcome your inner critic. Treat yourself with the same compassion, limit negative self-talk and show yourself understanding that you would extend to a friend experiencing similar struggles.
  • Engage in Self-Care Activities: Prioritise activities that promote relaxation and rejuvenation, such as meditation, exercise, creative pursuits, and spending time in nature.
The intersection of mental health and women’s leadership is a complex landscape with many obstacles yet rich with opportunities for growth and empowerment and individuals who are already pushing for positive change.
By recognising and treating the particular mental health challenges and other issues women may face, we can develop a culture of support, resilience, and inclusivity, paving the way for a more fair, equal and thriving leadership environment.
This blog was written by Ashley Ndung’u, a Media Communications and Culture student at Nottingham Trent University, while on her #YesSheCan Work Experience Placement.

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