According to the Harvard Business Review, Imposter Syndrome can be defined as "a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
Self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome tend to be thrown into the same bucket. However, as explained in the 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study, the key difference between the two is that self-doubt is about what you can do, while Imposter Syndrome is about who you think you are. An example of self-doubt would be thinking, “I don’t know as much as I should,” whereas an example of Imposter Syndrome would be “I’m not as good as others in my field.” This feeling of not being good enough is common in tech companies, especially for those that do not come from a traditional tech background or those who are new to their role.
The initial research on Imposter Syndrome was conducted in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, and they initially thought that Imposter Syndrome was only experienced by women. However, the 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study concludes that it, “… affects men and women in nearly equal proportions,” however, “the data shows that when a man gets promoted, the likelihood that Imposter Syndrome will affect his performance goes down significantly … for women, it jumps up.” Because being a woman in a leadership role is not as common, especially for tech companies, promotions will trigger Imposter Syndrome more frequently and intensely, while men will see their promotion as external validation of their abilities. This can lead to women feeling like they need more qualifications, certifications, or experience prior to being promoted. For both men and women in tech, encouraging companies to have training and support for Imposter Syndrome is a great first step in creating a diverse and open work environment.
Many tech professionals who portray signs of perfectionism and overwork may not have a standard career path and may experience varied environments when it comes to company culture. These aspects can lead to and contribute to Imposter Syndrome. While there is no foolproof way to overcome Imposter Syndrome, there are some actions that can help reduce its effects. The easiest one is to start a conversation. Realizing that there are many people experiencing the same symptoms helps normalize the fact that fear comes with taking risks and innovation. Another tip is to try to create a growth mindset, such as, “I don’t know how to do that … yet.” Understand that success can come from failure, and utilize challenges to develop resiliency and confidence. Finally, encourage companies and others to create a culture of inclusion and understanding. This can help build a positive support system that allows others to rely on coworkers for help when needed and make the workplace more positive. It may even help with job retention.
Acknowledging that many people struggle with self-confidence is a first step. The bottom line is that we all need to do our part to support one another and get the conversation started on Imposter Syndrome.
Author’s note: The 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study was conducted by Clare Josa, author of “Ditching Imposter Syndrome.” For more information on the study, visit www.ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/research/.