Imposter Syndrome At Work - your gender and another workplace myth

mindset Dec 07, 2022
Woman covering face with hands

Imposter Syndrome

Let’s start off with this old riddle – a man dies in a car crash and his critically injured son is sent to the hospital for surgery. Just as the surgery is about to begin the doctor stops and says ‘I can’t operate on him, he is my son!’. How could this be?

It’s his mother. The surgeon is a woman, how hard to imagine. This riddle has been used across many studies to show the depth of gender bias, with as little as 15% of participants correctly identifying that the surgeon was in fact a she.

Is it any surprise that the first research on Imposter Syndrome in 1978 was by two female psychologists, Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Chance. They believed that imposter syndrome is specifically representative of women, in particular, those in high achieving roles.

Imposter syndrome in the workplace, can be defined as a sense of self doubt related to your own work accomplishments and achievements. It can often make you feel like you’re tricking your coworkers into thinking you are more established and skilled than you actually are.


Feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome

So, how to know if you are experiencing imposter syndrome in your own working life? Typically, these are all hallmark symptoms of someone who is insecure in their own working abilities :

  • Inadequacy
  • Self doubt
  • Insecurity
  • Anxiety
  • Low self esteem
  • Depression

How might these look in a practical way in the workplace. Often, when someone experiencing feelings of inadequacy may shy away from new career opportunities or new projects as they fear failure and don’t see themselves as worthy for the task.


Types of Imposters

Imposter syndrome and all of its behaviours can actually be divided into different types, depending on the set of rules we create in our minds about what it means to be competent. Dr Valerie Young, an expert on Imposter Syndrome, created 5 prototypes for imposter syndrome.


The Perfectionist

This person sets themselves high standards on making sure everything they do is 100% correct, if there is a slight error then that totally discredits all the work and is seen as a sign of failure.

Pause for 60 seconds ask see if this applies to you

Do you believe your work has to be 100% correct 100% of the time?

The Expert

You guessed it – this person has to have all the knowledge on what and how to do everything they encounter at work. Their competence is measured on how much information they know, their main fear is coming across as unknowledgeable.

Pause for 60 seconds and see if this applies to you.

Have you ever shied away from a new task because you don’t have full expertise of each element ?


The Soloist

The main schema for this kind of person is that failure is asking someone for help. To attain success then everything must be done by yourself and nobody else.

Pause for 60 again and see if this can be applied to you.

Has there been an occasion in your career where you needed someones help, but didn’t reach out for fear of looking incapable?


The Natural Genius

You guessed it, these people measure their competence in being easily and quickly able to retrieve information and execute tasks. The thought of having to spend time mastering a skill is embarrassing and shameful.

Pause for 60 again…..

Do you dislike having a mentor because you want to do everything on your own?


The Superhero

Here’s one that I feel we can all relate to in some way. We judge our adequacy in our jobs by how many tasks and roles we can juggle at the same time. The more we do the more successful we are. If we fail to reach all deadlines at the one time, we are not capable or worthy.

Pause for 60…..

Do you get stressed when you are not constantly working, and feel like leisure time is ‘wasting’ time?


Why Women More Than Men

Imposter syndrome has an abundance of literature which mostly resides around the fact that women are more likely to experience it than men. In fact, a recent KPMG study found that 75% of executive women report experiencing imposter syndrome.

Its hard to be shocked by this statistic knowing that women in general face a harder route to establishing their careers than men, and according to a 2019 LeanIn study for every 100 men that are hired, there are only 72 women.

Brilliance bias is a term used in psychology to describe how we attribute men to be brilliant and sucessful based on their gender. Not only this, but it actively disregards the intellectual abilities of women. Regardless of how far we think we have come, gendered roles and jobs still ignite an abundance of insecurities and feelings of inadequacy among working women across all sectors. For more reading on gendered roles and stereotypes here is an article on our site (link).


How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome

From this article, I don’t want to overwhelm you with the looming idea that feeling inadequate in the workplace as a woman is inevitable, because it’s not.

We must remember how we have the ability to control and reform our own beliefs and rules in our head about what it means to be competent in your career, regardless of our environment.

Always speak up and ask for help. If you feel like you’re drowning in your own negative thoughts and don’t feel capable in your role then speak up. Sometimes we need others to lift us up and remind us just how skilled we are.

Learn to appreciate yourself and your set of skills. This is easier said than done, but adjusting your mindset to understand you have abilities beyond your knowledge and be open to try and fail.

Pause for 60. Taking that minute out of your day to actively reflect on what’s making you feel inadequate, how you can change it, and the task you wish to complete.


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