Ep. 106: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

with Leslie Meehan, Angelika Fretzen, Ph.D., M.B.A., & Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D.

March 29, 2023


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Leslie Meehan, Angelika Fretzen, Ph.D., M.B.A., & Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D.

Today’s episode features previous guests on Her Story: Leslie Meehan, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health, Angelika Fretzen, Ph.D., M.B.A., Technology Translation Director & COO, Wyss Institute at Harvard University, and Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D., Strategic Advisor.


It's so important for women to recognize that you are good enough. And you do have enough. -Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D.

Leslie Meehan, Angelika Fretzen, Ph.D., M.B.A., & Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D. Tweet



In today’s episode, we’ll be delving into a topic that affects many women in leadership positions: imposter syndrome. Despite their impressive accomplishments, women executives often experience self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Hear from our guests Leslie Meehan, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health, Angelika Fretzen, Ph.D., M.B.A., Technology Translation Director & COO, Wyss Institute at Harvard University, and Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D., Strategic Advisor and will share their personal experiences with imposter syndrome.

Carladenise Edwards: Women struggle with impostor syndrome. And I think it’s so important for women to recognize that you are good enough. And you do have enough. And you’re worthy of that promotion, the leadership role and the compensation that goes with it. We will often try to convince people to give us a chance. Right, because we don’t think we’re worthy. We think well, they’re taking a chance on us. Well, no, yeah crit chance on the other guy. I’m actually proving you opportunities. So yeah, the other risk and this is a hard one. As much as I want to believe that you know, I have a egalitarian values and thought process. I still experience the gender differentials in the country and even in my own family. I do not take out the trash or put gas in my car. So I just know, my husband does that. It’s difficult to get a husband like that to move, right? When when the new opportunity presents and I say, Oh, I got this great phone call, and I can, you know, I have this great opportunity for new leadership role. You know, babe, it’s time for us to pack up and move. It’s hard. It’s hard for a man’s ego. It’s hard for the family dynamic, right. And so for women, oftentimes, we have to make a sacrifice or choice between our families, our spouses, our relationships in our jobs. I have many sisters who’ve had to make choices between husbands and jobs, who’ve had to make choices between, you know, family, and a promotion. And I think it’s really unfortunate and uncomfortable that still exists today. I’m blessed. I have a husband who when he married me, my father made it pretty clear to him that my husband would do what I said. It doesn’t always, but my father tried to put the fear of God in Him like if you marry this, better be ready to do what she says, right.

I think in the work environment, men can serve as sponsors and allies of women who want to be promoted, who are sitting at that leadership table and need to have a voice, right. And often have an internal struggle of what decisions to make. When you’re one up where your peer says to you, hey, you know, I know your kids have a recital tomorrow, I got you. I got your back. Go. Oh, my gosh, right. As opposed to I don’t understand what do you mean, you can’t be here tomorrow? You know, 6am, right. It’s a very different dynamic men, or leaders, I should say, male or female, should practice being empathetic, compassionate, and genuinely concerned about the whole person. genuinely concerned about the whole person. And I don’t care if that leader is a male or female and they’re dealing with a male or female, I think a leader should be genuinely concerned about the whole person.

My professional career I’ve kind of grown up being I’m the only black female. You know, my, I’ve had many favorite jobs. But one of my favorite jobs was being the chief negotiator for Providence. Right. So I ran all of payer contracting for Providence, Health and Services. And I go into the negotiations on behalf of the provider side with the payers. I was always the only female and always the only African American until I ran into one person whose name I’ll drop is Cheryl PEGASE. And I’ll never forget, when we landed in the room, and we looked at each other, we kind of made eye contact, and then we stopped, right, because we had to get to business. But they’re not many women. They’re not many African Americans, right, in these leadership roles. And so I think for men to answer your question, to be exceptionally curious. I think sensitive, and actually genuinely concerned, is important. And I say that because we’re typically recruited and sought after, because there’s a commitment to diversity. So follow me, Gary. And so I’ve been told, we want you we are very intentional about wanting to diversify our boardroom, diversify our executive suite. And then I get there. And I learn that what they really want is somebody who behaves, thinks, walks, talks, just like them, but just has a different demographic, right. So when you say you want diversity, you really need to mean it, you need to say, I wasn’t mean thinks differently. Walks differently, maybe talks differently, so that I can be constantly open to the fact that the world we live in is very different than the people are sitting in this room. Right. That’s what we need from the male who’s in the room, right from the majority individual who’s in the room, because it can go either world to be a roomful of black folks with one white person and a roomful of white folks with one black person on it. But when you are the majority, and there is somebody who within that minority position, take advantage of the fact that they are actually different. And embrace it.

Angelika Fretzen, who grew up in Germany and pursued a career in chemistry, initially faced doubts about her career choice due to the lack of female leaders in the field. However, she persisted and ultimately found success in biotech, despite feeling like an impostor at times.

Let’s hear Her Story next.

Angelika Fretzen: I grew up in Germany, maybe the fact that you didn’t know is that I lost my father, when I was nine. I too, had two older brothers, 14 and 17. And I was the nine year old little one. And so when I got interested in the STEM field, it never really occurred to me, or to any of us that that would have been anything remarkable for a girl. That’s not the kind of things we were worried about, right? We were the kids in town that grew up without a dad, that’s really what we were. And so it didn’t matter. It was me that sort of a sister or my, my older brothers, who were interested in engineering or science or in business. The first time it really came up was actually when I told my older brother at your USBs older and a little bit my career mentor that I wanted to go into chemistry. And he thought it was a terrible idea. He was just, he was an engineer at training, he found chemistry was utterly unpredictable. You couldn’t just calculate it, and it would work. But maybe more importantly, he had never seen female leaders in chemistry in the traditional German chemical industry. And nor had he seen them in academia. And so he said, Look, you’re incredibly talented, you smarter, you can do whatever you want. Why would you go into a field where you basically held back by very rare by the very structures of that industry and where I have never seen a woman lead. And so to make his point, he actually helped me to get an internship at the Max Planck Institute for corn forum, hardcore organometallic chemistry catalysis, like really the core of German industry and very male dominated at the time. So I did that enough. And enough, I mean, it was easy, you know, organometallic chemistry is very colorful, it’s technically very difficult. Every time you take something out, it starts to burn. I worked for some phenomenal grad students who were telling me a lot about the technology that they were developing, but also the theory behind it. And so I was hooked. So I did my undergrad in Germany, a little bit in Ireland. Then, as you said, I went to Switzerland, to do my PhD. And didn’t quite take it as advice, obviously. But where he was right actually was, it took me until my third A year of my PhD program to see the first accomplished female professor. And I will never forget, it was Jacqueline Barton, from Caltech. And I know the lecture, I can imagine still the lecture theatre, which lecture, I know exactly what she was wearing. I can remember the talk, because it was so remarkable to me at the time. And maybe it was becoming clear to me that there was something different in the United States that maybe did open up more avenues for women to make a career in chemistry. So I finished my PhD. I came to Harvard, for my postdoc. And, again, the question was, what did I want to do next, and again, I made a little bit of an unusual decision to go into biotech. And so this was the beginning of the 2000s. Biotech was really a little bit in its first steps. And most of the companies came from or were founded by people who had like really big pharma experience, also mostly male. And it was also recommended to me that if you wanted to do a career in medicine, or chemistry or in chemistry, in general, you should probably go into one of the larger companies first start your career there, and then maybe go into biotech and immediately take a leadership role. But yeah, I met the, you know, the founding team of my cobia. At the time, it became mine would later, I really liked them. I like the science that we’re doing. And, and I wanted to be part of it. This was incredible scientists, we all could have done our shows in an academic career, but what we really wanted to do was make a difference, and build a company around that, that we really wanted to work in. And that felt like incredibly compelling idea to me. So I joined them again, I had listened to many people, but ultimately decided about my own path a little bit different at the time, I was the first chemist, so I started the medicine chemistry program, and then became interested and one of my major motivators was actually I was just wanting to learn what it takes to make it work.

Dr. Fretzen’s experiences highlight the challenges of overcoming imposter syndrome and pursuing one’s own path.

Leslie Meehan notes that women often face greater scrutiny and labels than men, and how one shows up and communicates in the workplace can impact how they are perceived. These factors can contribute to impostor syndrome.

Leslie Meehan: it’s a real challenge to think about how do you come across as intelligent, thoughtful, skilled, and educated in the decision, without keynoting that that you are better than somebody else in the room, or you’re trying to force an agenda. And I think it’s a real challenge for women, because been a lifelong observation for me, that men emote much more in the workplace than women do. I’ve seen full grown men time after time, have a full blown tantrum, not unlike those I’ve seen of my children when they were young. And then they can just walk out of the room and get away with it. It’s just it’s there’s no afterthought for that, that women don’t have that same opportunity. We get labeled as one thing or another, and then that label sticks. Whereas with with our male colleagues, it’s just forgotten. They walk out of the room, it’s just forgotten. That was just so so and so having his say, and now they’re going on. So it’s really hard for us so how you show up matters. That’s one of the things that my my favorite executive coach taught me how you show up matters, how you walk in the room, how engaged you are in the conversation, even if you’re not speaking. The Times you choose to speak and the way that you phrase your points it all now matters. So sometimes we go to school thinking that what matters is just the subject matters that we’ve learned. Are we a biology major or pre med, or maybe we just graduated from residency. But what really matters when we’re interacting with our colleagues is how much they can trust us, and how much of a team player they see us being. And so a lot of this is really not what you went to school for. But a lot of it is strategy.

Leslie Meehan, Angelika Fretzen, and Carladenise Edwards shared their experiences with imposter syndrome as women in leadership positions. They shared valuable insights and strategies for overcoming self-doubt, including the importance of recognizing your own worth, the need for empathy, and the necessity of truly valuing diversity in all its forms.

If you want to learn more about the journeys of women in leadership, follow along with us on Her Story at ThinkMedium.com

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