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TV presenter Emma Willis reveals struggle with imposter syndrome

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Anna Brech
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TV presenter Emma Willis

Are you battling with feelings of inadequacy at work? TV presenter Emma Willis hears you

Around two-thirds of women in the UK suffer from imposter syndrome at work – and TV presenter Emma Willis is one of them.

The face of Big Brother and The Voice UK says she felt massively out of depth when she first started out in the TV industry in the early noughties.

And still now, with a wealth of high-profile gigs to her name, the presenter grapples with the notion of not being good enough.

“There are obviously many more men doing what I do,” Willis says, in a new interview with the Telegraph. “You see that when you see the long list for the NTAs [National Television Awards]. It’s like a thousand men and two women. 

“I think in the beginning it did feel like a bit of a boys’ club, and I did feel a bit out of place. But back then I knew nothing about media, I knew nothing about television. I thought I was an imposter.”

Even after landing her breakthrough role at MTV UK, Willis didn’t have much faith in herself. “I thought, ‘I’ll enjoy it while it lasts – and I’m sure it’s not going to last very long,’” she recalls. 

But, of course, it did. As well as accruing a string of TV credits to her name over the past 16 years, Willis also works as a model and designer in collaboration with high-street store Next (she’s just launched a new season collection with them).

And yet, she’s still not entirely convinced by her own talents. Asked to name her greatest skill, she says: “I think I’m quite easy to talk to […] That’s my USP: I love a chat.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama

Former First Lady and feminist campaigner Michelle Obama also suffered from imposter syndrome

The term “imposter syndrome” was coined by researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in a 1978 paper. It describes the feeling of not being worthy, or adequate enough, for a particular role: as if you don’t deserve to be there.

Imposter syndrome is more prevalent among women. A telling statistic from the firm Hewlett Packard shows that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

Even from the point of hiring, then, women have a tendency to underestimate their potential to learn and thrive in any given role. 

In talking openly about imposter syndrome, Willis joins an impressive roster of high-achieving women who have addressed the issue, from politician Sophie Walker to Michelle Obama.

“I had to overcome the question ‘am I good enough?’” Obama writes, in her memoirs, Becoming. “It’s dogged me for most of my life. Many women and young girls walk around with that question in their minds.

“I overcame that question the same way I do everything – with hard work. I decided to put my head down and let my work speak for itself […] It takes time and maturity and successes under your belt to realise that you’re good enough.”

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.