Overcoming barriers and biases on your executive journey

Athena Alliance
4 min readOct 11, 2022

This blog post is adapted from our Guide to Navigating a Career Transition. If you’re a senior woman leader who’s re-entering the workforce, making a big career transition, or considering your strategy for change, download the full guide here.

Once you know where you’re headed, the next question is what’s holding you back — or what could potentially hold you back? You may even find you’re holding yourself back — struggling to find the courage, or to give yourself permission, to venture into something new, to take a risk.

A survey by KPMG highlights that women hesitate to take risks that benefit themselves: “…women often limit their risk-taking and tend to be more comfortable taking professional chances that benefit their group or company than ones that benefit themselves, regardless of the size of the risk or their years of experience. While 66% are willing to take on a new project, only 35% are confident about asking for a higher salary.”

Imposter syndrome and self-doubt can play a leading role in the hesitation to make a leap to something new, or in landing your next role. About 75% of executive women have experienced imposter syndrome — that feeling that they don’t quite belong, that they don’t quite deserve that role or promotion or new job offer; that they will be “found out” as an imposter.

And finally, you’re going to want to confront the biases that may prevent you from succeeding. What can you do now to get in front of them and increase your likelihood of success? Again, doing the deep thinking and strategizing ahead of time will not only ease your fears, but it will also help you show up confidently and be prepared for your next step.

Overcome imposter syndrome

Athena Coaches Kate Purmal and Lee Epting help women overcome imposter syndrome using a science-based approach to coaching. In an Athena Salon on breaking through imposter syndrome to become more impactful, resilient leaders, Kate defined imposter syndrome for our community:

“Despite evidence of success, the individual perceives their competence to be less than others perceive it to be. So there’s a confidence gap… These are the behaviors that we identify with imposter syndrome:

  1. Rejection sensitivity: anxiety over being evaluated or judged, a fear of failure.
  2. Depressed entitlement: perceiving yourself to be of a lower status than the dominant or privileged group.
  3. Lack of confidence: the lack of belief in yourself and your ability to meet challenges.
  4. Perfectionism: striving for flawlessness, over-preparation, or unattainable ideals.
  5. Feeling like a fraud: doubting accomplishments and having some level of fear of being exposed as a fraud.”

Everyone feels some level of imposter syndrome or self-doubt — it’s normal and you’re not alone. The trick is not to let it cripple you. If you can envision what it would look like when you’ve reached your goal and you have the resources in place, then you’re well-equipped to do it.

Practice reframing your fears and doubts with excitement, even if it doesn’t feel true at first. (Athena Founder & CEO Coco Brown says the goal isn’t to fake it until you make it — it’s to practice until you become better.) If you’re not scared, then you’re probably not dreaming big enough. Embrace the feeling of being scared and get excited about how rewarding it’s going to feel to pull it off. You don’t have to know everything at once — put one foot in front of the other and learn along the way.

Prepare for potential biases

The more ways you don’t fit into the norm, the more opportunity there will be for you to fall victim to a variety of biases. How can you take these into account as you plan, prepare interview responses, and think strategically about your next move?

While we can’t control other people, we can control our narrative. Here are a few ways to take control:

  • Look for ways to turn the narrative around and give a different perspective. You want to subtly and compassionately help them recognize their own bias and make it hard for them to stay in that bias.
  • Think about the biases that may apply to you personally and come up with ways to address them. Preempt the box people want to put you in, and show them how there is more to you than that box.
  • How are you the opposite of what people might assume? Consult people who know you well to shape a conversation that frames your true narrative. You must be clear on who you are and what you are capable of to counter the biases people may apply to you.

Learn how to advocate for yourself

No matter where your career transition is taking you, you’ll need to get comfortable advocating for yourself. This means speaking up and letting others know what you want and what you’re capable of. Whether you’re leveraging your external network for opportunities or striving for an internal promotion, the same confidence is required to articulate your value and let people know how they can help you.

Read the full Guide to Navigating a Career Transition here. Athena members can get started on the Navigating a Career Transition Pathway here.

Not a member? Learn how Athena helps women leaders reach their biggest career goals.



Athena Alliance

Activating the connections, knowledge, & opportunities women executives need to lead at their highest level of impact. Learn more: athenaalliance.com