Ireland’s top female politicians admit they suffer from “imposter syndrome” in their jobs, and say more women need to be encouraged to enter public life.
Responding to comments made by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the week, both Alliance’s Naomi Long and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald agree that self-doubt is normal for women entering the political arena.
The Scottish National Party leader told her local community radio station Sunny Govan Radio that despite being in the top job, she second guesses herself.
“Even though I have been in politics for a long time, I have been First Minister for four years, there will be days when I think ‘should I even be here? Is somebody about to find me out?’,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Reflecting on Ms Sturgeon’s comments, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said that women are more prone to self-doubt than men.
“I don’t think there is a woman in public life who doesn’t have that,” she said.
“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.
“I hope as a gender we can discipline ourselves out of that, it’s important for women in leadership roles to be conscious that as we act and speak and manage our way through political life, that other women and girls are watching, and making assessments of whether political life is for them.
“I’m conscious of, and I’ve heard this said about myself, a question of: ‘Well, is she really in charge’, and people say that with no conscious analysis of how sexist that can be.
“Some people have a tough time realising that women can lead, and bring a huge amount of public life, across all political strands.
“There is a lot more women in public life now, but we always need more.”
Likewise, Alliance leader Naomi Long said that 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?
“I think by nature of society men and conditioned to believe they should lead, and women are conditioned to think they should stay in the background.”
Both women are key players in the current powersharing talks taking place to try and restore the Northern Ireland Executive, and Ms Long says the more diverse the negotiating table, can only be a good thing.
“I don’t think it makes a massive difference in talks in terms of negotiating style, whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s more a personality thing,” Ms Long added.
“What we’re seeing as more women enter public life, is that men and women are very similar.
“We’re all different, we all have our own quirks, we bring that to the table, to me that’s really important.
“Diversity at the table only benefits, I’ve never believed women are more conciliatory, or more empathetic, men are measured too.
“I know lots of men in politics that don’t fit the mould of what you’d expect, you have to encourage people to feel confident and bring who you are to it.
“It’s effective politically, being yourself is your strength.”