Imposter Syndrome & Women

Do We Really Need to 'Get Over It?'

Imposter Syndrome CareerTipsForWomen CareerAdvancement GenderDifferencesAtWork


Jasleen Sidhu

Did you know imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that disproportionately impacts high-achieving women?

We all have an inner desire to feel like we belong, and having that sense is a signal that we are successfully building likability and trust- crucial elements that will lead to career advancement.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is when you second-guess your knowledge, skills, and abilities despite your qualifications and accomplishments. If you have ever felt like a fraud, like you didn’t belong, or overly anxious about your work performance you might suffer from imposter syndrome. When you feel afraid of being discovered as an “imposter” this could manifest in different ways. For some, it might mean disengaging at work and feeling generally dissatisfied. For others, it might look like putting in long hours to prove your value. If you’re like me, it can also mean constantly upgrading your skills, yet never feeling qualified enough. Sound familiar? Keep reading to understand where to go from here.

Understand It's Not Your Fault

People might tell you to simply “get over it.” You’ll notice many leadership and other personal development events targeting women will focus on imposter syndrome. But I’m here to tell you that is the wrong approach and Harvard Business Review concurs. In fact, the irony is that this approach is actually widening the gap between men and women in terms of success at work. Although men experience self-doubt, they do not experience the same level of imposter syndrome because their confidence builds as they are validated over time. Women, however experience microagressions, and are critiqued on their confidence.

So while women are "working on confidence", men are being groomed with financial and strategic business acumen, further widening the gap.

Exasperating the issue is intersectionality. Racism, homophobia, ableism, and other implicit bias is always at play; sending women even more messages that are received as “I don’t belong.” It’s human nature to sacrifice our authenticity when we feel excluded. Sadly, sometimes this results in disengaging from or leaving work. All of this reinforces the same beliefs and attitudes that lead to imposter syndrome in the first place.

So, What Do We Do?

Ok, that’s all fine and good but also kind of depressing, am I right? Well, now that you are aware that it’s normal and a bi-product of organizational culture and bias, how do we succeed in spite of the cards being stacked against us?

  1. Practice Self-Compassion — you are not alone, and you are capable of so many things. Focus on your accomplishments instead of dwelling on weaknesses. Reframe challenges as areas of development, instead of succumbing to negative self-talk.
  2. Use a Strengths Based Approach — This is like a muscle I help my clients build. Imposter syndrome tells us we need to change in order to succeed. When we focus on our strengths, we can use them to overcome obstacles and compensate for our gaps. For example, if you’re working on trusting your instincts (area for development), and planning is a strength of yours- use this strength to organize options quickly and create a tool that will help you act.
  3. Be a “Hype-Woman”— we need to be leaders in changing the culture to help women and other underrepresented groups feel included, seen, and valued. Balance appreciative inquiry, praise, and validation with providing necessary feedback. Join or start a Women’s network where you can have an impact on changing the culture while building your support system of your very own hype women.
  4. Don’t Internalize Feedback — filter feedback by asking yourself: *How much of this is about my performance, and how much of it might be rooted in bias? *What parts are most relevant to my personal development plan and goals? Remember, you are the CEO of your career. A significant portion of the feedback women receive is rooted in stereotypes. Women receive feedback on their personality and are critiqued for displaying both feminine (not taken seriously) and masculine ("who does she think she is?") traits. Shift the conversation to more tangible performance outcomes.
  5. Seek Out Development on Business, Strategic, and Financial Acumen. Comment below if you’d like me to create a template with specific questions to get the ball rolling for you. You can sit down with a leader in your organization or mentor and ask deliberate questions that will build your confidence in a more impactful way.


So think about how imposter syndrome is showing up for you. What is one way you can start taking action right now? Maybe it’s preparing for an upcoming job interview or performance review by focusing on your strengths. Choose the area(s) that will have the most impact for you. Comment below with your commitment and / or insights!

Before You Go!

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