Belfast Telegraph

Our nagging feelings of self-doubt, by women at the top of political ladder

Alliance leader Naomi Long
Alliance leader Naomi Long
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald
MLA Claire Sugden

By Aoife Moore & David Young

Some of our top female politicians have admitted they suffer from "imposter syndrome" in their jobs, and say more women need to be encouraged to enter public life.

Earlier this week Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed there were times when she was affected by self-doubt: "Even though I have been in politics for a long time, there will be days when I think 'should I even be here? Is somebody about to find me out?'," Ms Sturgeon told her local radio station.

It's an issue that leading political women here are very aware of.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "I don't think there is a woman in public life who doesn't have that.

"It's to men's great credit that they look at things and automatically assume they can do them.

"Women look at things and we look at the one small part that we may not be able to do."

Alliance's Naomi Long revealed she doubted her abilities when first asked to run in her party's leadership contest.

She said: "I think women are conditioned to think they're not the future leaders, and that's something we need to try to reverse, it's an ingrained thing.

"Even the most confident of women suffer from doubt, and I've never seen politics as off-limits for me.

"However, when people approached me to be leader, I thought; 'Why? What would I bring?'

"You have that moment of asking, 'Do I have what it takes?', then when I started to think about what I wanted to achieve, I realised that is leadership, and people have followed, and I've seen it pay off, but you do have those moments of 'Why would anyone listen to me?'."

Both women are key players in the current power-sharing talks taking place to try and restore the Stormont Executive, and Mrs Long says it can only be a good thing the more diverse the negotiating table is.

Independent MLA Claire Sugden, who served as Justice Minister in the last Stormont Executive, said she fights imposter syndrome every day.

"Always, all the time. Most females in public life suffer from it.

"A lot of my female colleagues say they have said to themselves at times, 'What am I doing here, is this really right for me, am I good enough?'."

The Coleraine politician said barriers need to be broken down, "especially society's expectation of which kinds of jobs men and women should do".

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said a strong support network is essential to defeat self-doubt.

"I can say that I've suffered from imposter syndrome at times and it's a horrible feeling.

"Women are subjected to massive levels of scrutiny in public life. Social media takes things to a new level. Women can be pulled apart and have their confidence impacted.

"A good support network and good friends are critical to overcoming imposter syndrome.

"My advice: you are good enough, you can do it, believe in yourself."

But self-doubt was never an issue for former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie.

"I'm one who believes that, because of our ability to multi-task, women do a heck of a lot more and just get on with the job," she said.

"We're not seeking glory for ourselves, we're seeking to serve the public."

The former South Down MP added:"I think women also bring a level of empathy for a wide range of issues, which you do require for public life."

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