• Laura Hay, Leadership |

Have you ever noticed how an unplanned disruption can force us to try something new or change a routine for the better?

Perhaps your TV cable broke down and you rediscovered the joy of relaxing by your fireplace? Or maybe an annual conference you planned to attend shifted to a virtual format and you learned new digital ways to connect with peers?

That’s what happened to myself and Emily Gingrich, the Head of Insurance Company Capital and Asset Liability Management Group at AIG's Life and Retirement department. When the much-anticipated KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit moved online due to pandemic restrictions, I saw how a virtual event is a great way to experience inspiring speakers, make time to reflect on your professional goals, and meet new colleagues.

And Emily explained to me how she has moved many of her professional networks ‘online’ to preserve and grow these relationships despite pandemic isolation. In fact, I soon learned that Emily is a big advocate for ‘disrupting’ and breaking away from old habits.

Learning to disrupt the Imposter Syndrome:

The topic of disrupting destructive habits arose when Summit presenters launched the ‘The Future of Women in Business Report’. This survey of 750 high-performing executive women in Fortune 1000 companies revealed that 75% had personally experienced the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ at certain points in their career.

As defined in the report, Imposter Syndrome is a persistent inability to believe one’s success is deserved or achieved by working hard and possessing the necessary skills. It is often accompanied by feelings of self-doubt, fear of success or failure, or self-sabotage. And, it’s widespread, since a shocking 81% of survey respondents believe that they put more pressure on themselves not to fail than men do, and 74% opine that their male counterparts do not experience the same self-doubts.

“The study resonated with me since I’ve absolutely experienced Imposter Syndrome,” admitted Emily during our recent interview. Describing the highs and lows of her career in pension consulting, investment banking and insurance, she noted that, “The challenges that I’ve faced over the years have really been more ‘internal’ than anything else, particularly needing to overcome my own feelings of insecurity or not feeling ready for the next role.”

Fortunately, Emily learned to disrupt this mindset, and she offers advice to others on overcoming their self-doubts: “I tell women to ‘give yourself a break’, be nicer to yourself. Sometimes you can even turn these feelings to your advantage.” She explains that this may mean building the confidence to ask a colleague for help or telling yourself “I don’t actually need to know this and I can lean on / hire someone who does.”

The first step, however, is recognizing the ‘symptoms’ of Imposter Syndrome, so that you can ‘nip them at the bud’. Emily observes that, “We can get in situations where our internal dialogue is not very nice and we need to stop that mental talk track, tune it out, and reframe it.”

To do so - especially if we are too self-critical - Emily suggests turning to colleagues, friends or family who can give perspective, and remind you of your strengths: “Some of my most pivotal moments have come when others expressed confidence in me, and that was extremely helpful.”

This advice was reinforced by the KPMG Summit Report in which 72% said they often looked to a mentor or trusted advisor when doubting their abilities to take on new roles. Half of respondents said that having a supportive performance manager was most valuable and 29% said feeling valued and fairly rewarded was important.

Emily recalls a milestone moment in her own career when, as a new hire at a male-dominated investment bank, she stayed silent during a client conference call. Later, when she told her boss about issues they could have raised on the call, he retorted, “Well, I want you to speak up. That’s what I hired you for.”

Reflecting on that moment, Emily notes how, “That was such a powerful message because it gave me both the permission and the responsibility to speak up. That person likely doesn’t realize the impact he had on me, but it really shows the positive influence that mentors, sponsors, colleagues and friends can have on us. And, how important it is to reach out and make these connections.”

Connecting in a virtual world:

But how, exactly, do we make and maintain connections when remote work has many of us physically isolated from our support network?

Emily points to opportunities such as online events, including the KPMG Summit, which included interactive components, like virtual networking tables among attendees: “A virtual event not only gives us a chance to focus on our professional development but you can also meet and share our experiences with peers. It is so helpful, especially on the issue of Imposter Syndrome, to hear others, realize that we have common issues, and realize these are not impossible roadblocks.”

She also describes how she re-thought her own approach to networking, since in-person coffee breaks, or business travel have become a distant memory. “You now have to be much more proactive and deliberate,” affirms Emily. “For example, I’ve written down a list of the people that I would normally connect with, who I want to make an active effort to reach out to for a ‘virtual coffee or glass of wine’. I might pretend that next week is my ‘Houston week’, and keep those connections going. In some ways, this is easier to do in a virtual format since there’s real authenticity when you connect with folks in their homes with their real life in the background.”

My call with Emily reminded me that we all must regularly disrupt ourselves, whether that’s shutting down self-doubts or learning new ways to connect when our world turns upside down. Although it’s clear that many professional women faced isolation long before the pandemic began, Emily shows that there are real benefits to connecting and sharing support: “You just never know when that one sentence you say is a gift that can carry someone for the rest of their career.”

For more inspiring stories from women leaders in financial services visit home.kpmg/mindthegap.

More about Emily Gingrich: Emily has spent the last four years as Head of AIG Life and Retirement's Insurance Company Capital and Asset-Liability Management Group. She joined AIG in 2011 as a Managing Director and assumed increasingly senior positions, including Head of Value-Based Management and Life Actuarial Practices. Previously, Emily was a Vice President at JPMorgan Chase, providing risk management services for corporate pensions within the investment bank’s start up advisory group. Emily began her career as an Actuarial Analyst for major pension funds with Watson Wyatt after earning a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Mathematics from Yale University. Emily is currently on the Board of Trustees of The Actuarial Foundation, a philanthropic organization that engages the talents of actuaries to enhance math education and financial literacy.