Impostor syndrome (IS) refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.
The term was first coined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. When the concept of IS was introduced, it was originally thought to apply mostly to high-achieving women. Since then, it has been recognized as more widely experienced.
Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome include:
An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
Attributing your success to external factors
Berating your performance
Fear that you won't live up to expectations
Sabotaging your own success
Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
The problem with impostor syndrome is that the experience of doing well at something does nothing to change your beliefs. The more you accomplish, the more you just feel like a fraud. It's as though you can't internalize your experiences of success. The thought process is: If you do well, it must be the result of luck because a socially incompetent person just doesn't belong.
We know that certain factors can contribute to the more general experience of impostor syndrome. One of it is from gender interacts with the socio-structural system that apportions power, resources, roles, and social status based on whether something or someone is perceived as male/masculine or female/feminine and appropriately adheres to the “guard rails” of their gender group. Gender systems are held in place by social norms that prescribe acceptable gender-related expression and behavior. Gender norms thus act upon individuals and shape their standing and options in the world and their functioning within the institutions and communities in which they exist.
We have been socialized from a young age to believe these are true or fixed – and going against them or challenging them can make us feel insecure because challenging norms can be difficult and cause conflict. It can also feel lonely, so it’s great that more people are talking about the impact that these expectations have on women - and men.
So what can you do to challenge the impostor syndrome?
To get past impostor syndrome, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions. They might include things such as the following:
"What core beliefs do I hold about myself?"
"Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?"
"Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?"
This can be hard because you might not even realize that you hold them, but here are some techniques you can use:
Share your feelings. Talk to other people about how you are feeling. These irrational beliefs tend to fester when they are hidden and not talked about.
Focus on others. While this might feel counterintuitive, try to help others in the same situation as you. If you see someone who seems awkward or alone, ask that person a question to bring them into the group. As you practice your skills, you will build confidence in your own abilities.
Assess your abilities. If you have long-held beliefs about your incompetence in social and performance situations, make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Write down your accomplishments and what you are good at, and compare that with your self-assessment.
Take baby steps. Don't focus on doing things perfectly, but rather, do things reasonably well and reward yourself for taking action. For example, in a group conversation, offer an opinion or share a story about yourself.
Question your thoughts. As you start to assess your abilities and take baby steps, question whether your thoughts are rational. Does it make sense that you are a fraud, given everything that you know?
Stop comparing. Every time you compare yourself to others in a social situation, you will find some fault with yourself that fuels the feeling of not being good enough or not belonging. Instead, during conversations, focus on listening to what the other person is saying. Be genuinely interested in learning more.
Use social media moderately. We know that the overuse of social media may be related to feelings of inferiority. If you try to portray an image on social media that doesn't match who you really are or that is impossible to achieve, it will only make your feelings of being a fraud worse.
Stop fighting your feelings. Don't fight the feelings of not belonging. Instead, try to lean into them and accept them. It's only when you acknowledge them that you can start to unravel those core beliefs that are holding you back.
Refuse to let it hold you back. No matter how much you feel like you don't belong, don't let that stop you from pursuing your goals. Keep going and refuse to be stopped.
Impostor syndrome may stem from cultural gender norms, such as the perception that men are better leaders leads to the underrepresentation of women in leadership and that women's primary role is as the carer of their family leads to confusing double-bind experienced by women in the workplace.
Hence, Women may need to “prove themselves” more than men do, or they are judged more harshly than their male counterparts. Women may feel insecure to aspire to leadership positions when they only see leaders who are men or are in a male-dominated industry.
Ways companies can do to challenge the imposter syndrome:
Develop inclusive policies
Gender bias awareness training
Mentorship and sponsorship
As an organization, IBCWE helps member companies to improve gender equality in their work environment through an advisory in making inclusive policies such as policies in recruitment and talent management. IBCWE also holds gender bias awareness training to increase awareness about how harmful gender bias can be.
We discussed this Impostor Syndrome issue in SYSTEMIQ Indonesia Women’s Breakfast on Monday, 15 March from 08:30-09:30 WIB [GMT +7]. The event is held online through Microsoft Teams, and joined by 10-15 female colleagues, ranging from Junior Associate to Partner.
We also have an upcoming event, Women Talent Network, an activity for female talents who are members of IBCWE companies. The discussion will talk about the Self-Acceptance and Impostor Syndrome issue.
Stay around for further information!
IBCWE presentation in SYSTEMIQ Indonesia Women’s Breakfast, March 2021.