Of all the self-help tips the media suggests to women, the guides to overcoming “Imposter Syndrome” are some of the worst. Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that refers to the feeling of inadequacy, despite being highly qualified and deserving of success. These feelings can take form in many different ways, such as cultural or racial imposter syndrome. However, it is most commonly attributed to females’ confidence in their professional careers.
Imposter syndrome is real and the reality is that many women struggle with it, but the causes of it are mostly speculated or undiscussed. Magazines, blogs, YouTube videos and more focus on advising women on how to fix this problem. Ultimately, they are placing the blame on the woman by saying it is caused by lack of confidence, a “type-A” personality, perfectionist behavior, or fear of failure. Some psychologists have even considered a person’s upbringing and the way their parents rewarded them as a cause of imposter syndrome. There are many possible explanations as to why this is a universal phenomenon, but we must not ignore the contribution systemic sexism has played into this role.
Our society and workplaces have underlying issues that target women, especially women of color and different sexualities. Rather than telling women imposter syndrome is caused by a lack of confidence, we need to analyze and improve the treatment of others in the office. By blaming the individual for having imposter syndrome and giving tips to fix it, we are ignoring the real causes.
Consider a woman who is experiencing imposter syndrome. Why does she have a lack of confidence in her work and the office? There could be many reasons why, but perhaps she has repeatedly been interrupted in meetings. In a research study by George Washington University, it was found that men interrupt women 33% more than when talking with another man and interrupted a woman an average of 2.1 times in a three-minute conversation. In virtual meetings, 45% of women business leaders said it’s difficult for women to speak up.
If a woman has ideas or points to make in a conversation, but never gets the chance to speak or her ideas are ignored, it can influence them to begin doubting their skills, which can snowball into additional questions of their self-worth and quality of work.
Women can be producing the same or better quality of work as their male coworkers, but time and time again men are promoted or hired before women. In a study done by Lean In, it was found that for every 100 men there were only 72 women promoted to a manager position.
As another example, contemplate a woman who is the only person of color in an office or team. Women of color are already more likely to experience imposter syndrome than anyone else, which can be attributed to the lack of role models and examples of women of color exceeding in similar fields. In a report by Catalyst, it was found that less than 5% of US corporate board seats were held by women of color. Researchers have found that having positive role models helps with confidence and success and a study done by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that having examples of women in STEM helped young girls imagine themselves in similar roles. In the previously mentioned study by Lean In, the proportion of women of color being promoted is even lower than their white counterparts.
“Women, women of colour, especially black women, as well as the LGBTQ community are most at risk. When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or undeserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur,” Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach, told BBC.
The reality of the issue is 75% of executive women face imposter syndrome. Businesses, parents, teachers and everyone should work together to prevent this issue from transitioning into the next generations, but we must address the present problem as well. Psychologists have acknowledged that imposter syndrome is often accompanied with anxiety, depression, burnout and holding themselves back, and these are only some of the symptoms. If a large proportion of women in an office are experiencing these mental health issues, this contributes to gender inequality in the workplace and bosses should take on the responsibility to improve this as best as they can.
Working towards preventing this problem can start as early as in classrooms. Teaching students about scientists, feminists and other notable women of color can not only help girls see themselves succeeding in the future, but it will also help boys view women more equally in their future careers.
Rather than advising women on how to fix the issue and leaving it in their hands, companies and businesses can and should implement strategies and policies to promote gender equality in the office. Staff can undergo unconscious bias training, ensure equal pay and establish strict and concise harassment policies. Companies can also create Diversity, Equity and Inclusion teams and initiatives to promote equal opportunities and treatment of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.
All in all, it is still beneficial for there to be tips and advice on how to improve self-confidence and acknowledge one’s skills and hard work because it is a problem women are currently dealing with. However, it is equally — if not more — important to recognize and acknowledge sexism, racism and homophobia as one of the many causes of imposter syndrome to help prevent this from becoming a continuing issue.