ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Imposter syndrome rife among female accountants

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 Apr 2024

A new study reveals the challenges female accountants face at work, leading to stress, anxiety and a heightened fear of failure. We offer confidence-boosting tips.

Almost two out of three female chartered accountants say they’ve been severely affected by feelings of self-doubt about their ability to perform their job, according to a new study. Meanwhile  four out of five regularly seek approval from others for their work or decisions.

The ‘Women in Accounting’ study published by caba, the occupational charity for ICAEW members and their families, examined the impact that feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’ have on women working in the profession. 

Four out of five said they feel they have to work harder than their colleagues to prove their worth, 29% said they felt an overwhelming need to always be ‘perfect’, 27% said they have a heightened sense of stress or anxiety and 26% reported a heightened fear of failure. 

In the study of more than 200 female chartered accountants living and working in the UK, almost half of respondents said they’re uncomfortable telling their manager about areas they feel less confident in, including where they’d like more training.

And feeling they have nowhere to turn internally, nine out of 10 respondents said they regularly sacrifice their work-life balance to accommodate the needs of others. Two in five said they had also avoided taking annual leave on more than one occasion because they were worried about handing over their tasks to a colleague. 

When asked which strategies and resources they think would be helpful to combat feelings of work-related self-doubt, the most common responses were flexible working arrangements (34%), regular feedback and recognition from their manager (33%) and access to training and development programmes (30%). 

Ola Opoosun, Head of Support Services at caba, says despite great progress in tackling gender inequality within the accountancy sector, the findings show that there are still significant challenges to overcome if the industry is to become a truly inclusive space for women. 

“Many female chartered accountants are struggling with a lack of confidence in their role and this, in addition to other factors such as gender bias and a lack of representation at a senior level, is stopping them from reaching their full potential.

“We urge employers to reflect on the strategies and resources highlighted by many of the women who participated in our study and ensure that they’re doing everything they can to support and empower their female employees.” 

Ruth Kudzi, a psychology and neuroscience expert and author of How to Feel Better, agrees that imposter syndrome may be a result of real feelings based on structural inequalities that exist within an organisation. “It’s worth reflecting on what is real and if many of you are feeling in a similar way it may be due to the culture of the organisation that you’re in.”

Business mentor Jeannette Linfoot says imposter syndrome is particularly widespread in high-achieving individuals. But when it comes to overcoming imposter syndrome, the hardest part can be addressing your underlying feelings of inadequacy.

“It may be tempting to simply push these thoughts down, but recognising your own negative self-talk will help you begin putting these feelings into context and is the first step to forming more positive habits around acknowledging your success and accomplishments,” Linfoot says.

It’s also important to seek support, Linfoot adds. “Low confidence in your abilities can seriously hold you back from your full potential, particularly if you’re in a vicious cycle of self-criticism. Confide in those you trust about how you are feeling. Not only will this help you to gain some outside perspective and escape the cycle, but you may be pleasantly surprised by what others see in you.”

Kudzi advises clients to visualise or imagine that they are confident and capable and then tuning into the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that they would be exhibiting. “When they have this strong new identity, they can then consider how they can act in congruence with this and what will help them to stay in that space. 

“Often when you have imposter syndrome you may not believe that you’re responsible for your own success,” Kudzi adds. “So if you start to celebrate the small wins you can build new neural pathways that change the way you think.”

As part of its ongoing commitment to the welfare of the ICAEW community, caba has launched a new Women in Accounting Hub, a dedicated online space where female ICAEW members can find career advice, access to free development courses and other helpful resources including self-help guides and development tools. 

ICAEW equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives

Diversity and inclusion at ICAEW

Diversity and inclusion is a key pillar of ICAEW's strategy. Discover relevant content, from topical articles on chartered accountancy to professional resources to help you thrive at work.

D&I hub promo

Our communities

ICAEW has created a number of communities aimed at supporting diversity and inclusion throughout the accountancy profession and beyond. Our communities offer tailored support and an opportunity to network with your peers. See a full list of our communities.

Hands joined together around a table
Diversity & Inclusion

Information and best practice guidance on the different areas of diversity, helping to educate, support and raise awareness.

Find out more
Women In Finance polaroid
Women in Finance

Personal development and networking opportunities to help women in finance reach their potential.

Find out more
Black members polaroid
Black Members

A community created to inspire, support and develop Black ICAEW members and students throughout their career.

Find out more
Open AddCPD icon

Add Verified CPD Activity

Introducing AddCPD, a new way to record your CPD activities!

Log in to start using the AddCPD tool. Available only to ICAEW members.

Add this page to your CPD activity

Step 1 of 3
Download recorded
Download not recorded

Please download the related document if you wish to add this activity to your record

What time are you claiming for this activity?
Mandatory fields

Add this page to your CPD activity

Step 2 of 3
Mandatory field

Add activity to my record

Step 3 of 3
Mandatory field

Activity added

An error has occurred
Please try again

If the problem persists please contact our helpline on +44 (0)1908 248 250