As a mentor to female professionals who often face self-doubt early in their careers, it’s not easy telling them that these moments may not go away as they advance. In fact, many senior women executives admit that ‘the annoying little critic who sits on their shoulder’ re-appears from time to time.
That’s why I was delighted to chat with Dublin-based Eve Finn, Managing Director at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), since she speaks candidly about the ‘imposter syndrome’ she still feels occasionally. In Eve’s soothing Irish brogue, she points out that, while self-doubts recur, you can learn to tame them, by framing success on your terms and finding a supportive network, including an employer culture that builds everyone’s confidence.
Finding solutions at each career crossroad
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Eve devised ways to douse the doubts she felt as an actuary presenting technical topics to predominately male pension trustee boards accustomed to a different subject matter expert. “I always enjoyed finding solutions, even back in school when I loved doing math homework that everyone else dreaded,” muses Eve. She later channeled her problem-solving knack into banking and asset management challenges, from Brexit planning to complex client investment objectives.
Recalls Eve, “As a young woman and a maths person, I faced a hurdle earning credibility, and I naturally felt some doubts. So, I focused on getting over it, by slowly and steadily building trust with my clients, by demonstrating my skills, and putting myself in their shoes, to show I really understood the challenges they faced.”
She adds that many women must continue to apply these confidence-building efforts since, “The further you go in your career, you may have more moments when you need strategies to tune out the critical voice in your head, perhaps when someone presents you with a new opportunity or you take on more responsibility.”
To silence the negative thoughts, Eve suggests that individuals create a physical or virtual ‘filing cabinet’ of their past achievements or praise they received from others: “Whenever you get an e-mail with positive feedback on ‘a job well done,’ print it off and save it somewhere so you can read it if you need a boost. These little everyday reminders can be hugely powerful.”
Most importantly, Eve urges women to build a support network, including peers, friends or a spouse who you can share your feelings with and gain their perspectives and encouragement: “I’ve been blessed to have a very supportive partner at home, and I wouldn’t have gotten where I am without him. Having trusted people – women and men - who you can talk things through with is amazingly helpful, especially when you realize you’re not the only one to feel self-doubts.”
Today, Eve tries to ‘pay it forward,’ by serving as a mentor - or simply a good listener - to others, particularly contemporaries who face maternity leave dilemmas. “Some women feel uncertain how to navigate the next steps when they are starting a family. They’ve worked so hard on their career and they’re not sure how to navigate it. I was one of the few women on the investment floor who came back from maternity leave, so I can relate to how they are feeling.”
To help herself and others find solutions at such career crossroads, one of Eve’s favorite tools is a quotation from acclaimed writer Maya Angelou, which states simply: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Explains Eve, “This quote really sums it up for me - since we have long careers, we must find joy in our work and be our authentic self. Only you can be the best judge of what you’re good at and what you enjoy, and your support network can help you reflect on this and do what is right for you.”
The role of good culture and leaders
Knowing that many women may struggle to speak up for themselves, Eve emphasizes that organizational leaders, from people managers to policy-setting executives, must help empower these individuals, and nurture real work group inclusion: “I do believe there’s a responsibility for line managers to coach and guide their people, recognize their team-members’ different strengths, and advocate on their behalf.”
She points out that this happens most naturally when a company has a solid internal culture of diversity and inclusion: “At LGIM, we’ve been a trailblazer in asset management gender diversity, and it was part of a natural progression over time, rather than a forced action. Through many initiatives the firm undertook to build that culture over time, I’ve seen the number of female investment professionals really increase. Today, we have a female global CEO and CIO, and my own team in Ireland has 45 percent female representation and there are eight nationalities represented in a team of 40 people Our leaders now think differently about people, and we are seeing it come to life.”
While Eve makes problem-solving look easy, she reminds me that new challenges will always appear, and it takes continuous effort to work through them: “It’s a reality that, for many women, Imposter Syndrome can creep into your day, or reappear at different points in your career. You can learn to overcome it, with a support network and a great company culture. Don’t let self-doubt cloud your potential. When someone offers you an opportunity, it’s because you are good at your job, and you have to remember that.”
More about Eve Finn: Based in County Meath, Eve is Managing Director with LGIM Ireland (Legal & General Investment Management), one of Europe’s largest asset managers serving a broad range of clients globally. She has spent the past 13 years with the firm, including the past four years in her present role based in Dublin, and previous posts in London as Head of Solutions and Head of Portfolio Construction, LDI Funds. Previously, Eve worked in Deutsche Bank’s Global Pensions Strategy Group and was an Investment Consultant with Watson Wyatt (now Willis Towers Watson). Eve holds a Bachelor of Science honors degree, Financial and Actuarial Mathematics, from Dublin City University, and is a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries.