Summary List Placement
Phuong Phillips is a high-flyer: she was the lead M&A attorney for Tesla in 2017 and, earlier in her career, worked on the IPOs for both Google and Netflix as a young lawyer in silicon valley.
But, like many senior women, especially women of color, the 43-year-old struggled with self-doubt.
Three quarters of women executives feel imposter syndrome – a feeling of inadequacy that persists despite career success – and put more pressure on themselves to succeed than men, according to a KPMG report last year.
Phillips’ colleagues evidently don’t agree Phuong has reason to suffer imposter syndrome. She was named among Top 100 Legal Influencers by The Business Journal in 2019 and received a Women of Influence Award from the Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2015.
Despite all her successes, Phillips, who has been chief legal officer for mobile and social games developer Zynga – the makers of “Words With Friends” – in Palo Alto, California since 2017, still has moments of insecurity over her professional worth.
She tells Insider: “I’ve mostly been in industries which are male-dominated – [where] all the partners are male – and because I look young, I’ve always been told to go get the coffee … so I’ve been constantly reminded of that and thought to myself, am I even supposed to be here?”
Phillips tells Insider she has realized the feeling never goes away but she has learned how to manage it.
These are her tips on how to position yourself at work in a way that will boost your confidence so that imposter syndrome doesn’t cut too deep.
Be a good listener
Phuong cites being a good listener as her starting block for her bid to build mutually respectful relationships at work.
She stressed listening more is key to being listened to more. Phillips urges people to pay attention to who’s speaking in a meeting – to be the most attentive person in the room – so that they hear a diverse set of opinions and gain useful information to tie into their own goals.
“At every level of your career, there’s a new group of people that you’re supposed to try to emulate and earn their respect,” Phillips says.
“At every juncture in my career, in the beginning, there’s a desire to prove myself and I don’t think that will ever go away for the rest of my life. That’s good because it forces you to be humble.”
Be succinct and clear when you speak
Earlier in her career, Philips says she encountered male lawyers who “made it very difficult for the junior female lawyers to speak up and be inclusive with the conversation.”
She would always try to speak up when it mattered and always try to be to the point.
“When you say something, be very succinct and very clear. There’s no need to drag or show off your knowledge. If you want to become a trusted confidante for whoever you’re speaking with, give them real information that they can process and act on,” she says.
Find an ally
Philips says one of the signs imposter syndrome has taken hold is when you’re afraid to go to a meeting. “You need to step back and realize your worth in a situation. If you need affirmation, speak to a trusted colleague or senior person,” she says.
Find an ally – someone who is an advocate for your work, who can provide protection and support when you need it most. You want someone who can protect you in a meeting and advocate for your ideas and thereby boost your confidence, she adds.
“When you’re in a room, look for who you would like to emanate in a room. It doesn’t need to be one person for everything, but they might have certain skills you aspire to. People feel appreciated when they are looked up to.”
Don’t limit yourself to one mentor who has a similar background to you
Philips says people shouldn’t limit themselves to one mentor and should also seek out people with whom they have a genuine connection, rather than a similar background.
“Don’t just rely on people who look like you and sound like you. Go outside and get a diversity of mentors,” she says. “When I was working at a law firm, most of my mentors were men because that’s who I was surrounded by.” The mother-of-two adds she actively looked for other parents as mentors too.
Stop comparing yourself to others
Imposter syndrome is rooted in the belief that someone else could be doing your job better.
Phillips tries to remind herself that success should be about what an individual is good at at and hopes to achieve – and not everyone will be at the same stage of their journey at the same time.
“Remind yourself that you might be the perfect all-encompassing perfect person, but success should be about what you’re personally good at,” she adds.
Always be open to learning more
Phillips says she strives to always know that there’s always more to learn, to ask “how well do I actually know myself.”
“An openness to continue to learn,” she says, lets people be “humble and keep growing.”
Don’t obsess about being liked – but be generous
Phillips says she learned to take the pressure off herself to be liked – but maintained an emphasis on being generous.
Think of how you and your colleagues can work towards a shared company goal, she advises, suggesting that women check in on female colleagues and join groups at work to support each other. She is involved in Zynga’s 16-week executive coaching programme for female staff, which includes mentorship and support.