Everyone can have feelings of inadequacy, especially at work, where we are judged on our capabilities, performance, and outcomes. Impostor syndrome is when that becomes part of your regular thought pattern that leaves you doubting your efforts and your accomplishments. Characteristics include an inability to accurately assess your competence, fear of being seen as a failure, and holding back from reaching attainable goals.
Impostor syndrome is associated with job dissatisfaction, burnout, and impaired job performance. Despite this, 75% of women executives, who have reached the highest levels of success in their fields, report experiencing impostor syndrome throughout their careers.
Impostor syndrome is uncomfortable, but that can be a good thing. In addition to the negative characteristics, it is also associated with overachieving, setting challenging goals, and can create feelings of motivation to achieve. Those can be unhealthy emotions in excess, but you can learn to harness them and use them to fuel your professional development while enjoying your successes with the proper mindset.
Women typically apply for a job when they meet 100% of the criteria, while men usually apply when they meet 60%. Women are also 26% less likely to ask for a referral. The result is that they apply to 20% fewer jobs, despite being 16% more likely to be hired. When impostor syndrome becomes a fear that holds you back from trying, you have to change how you interpret those feelings.
The key to overcoming impostor syndrome is learning not to be afraid to fail and even embrace it. There is no better teacher than failure. The most successful people make mistakes, and by learning from those mistakes, they grow and become better until they can find their path to success. The only failure that can truly impede you is not trying.
Instead, reframe feelings of impostor syndrome as a growth opportunity. If you believe you don’t know how to achieve something, that a good thing, because nobody knows everything. When you apply for a new position, you want to feel impostor syndrome because that means you have an opportunity to grow. Once that feeling start to go away, it’s time to look for your next promotion and find other options to expand your horizons.
Overcoming impostor syndrome isn’t something that you should do alone. Living inside the echo chamber of your head can cause recurring negative thoughts to become worse over time. Talking about your feelings, whether with friends, a professional community, or a therapist, can help to alleviate the discomfort associated with those feelings. 72% of executive women say they have sought the advice of a peer or trusted mentor to help with their impostor syndrome.
What Companies Can Do and Why
It is also crucial for communities and companies to be aware that while impostor syndrome can fuel success, it can also stem from environmental causes like institutional bias and feelings of marginalization. The more that outside forces are at play, the more difficult it becomes for an individual to process feelings of anxiety and doubt healthily and productively.
One example of the problem is that women make up only 24% of all technology professionals despite being half the population. One of the major factors attributed to this is that 56% of women leave their tech jobs mid-career. At the same time, 57% of women in STEM careers report having experienced impostor syndrome, with many saying that it was from feeling out of place or feeling like they didn’t belong.
Impostor syndrome causes people not to apply for jobs or leave them early. Encourage your diverse women to apply to roles where they don’t have all of the qualifications and advocate for them based on their potential.
It makes otherwise motivated and talented people less likely to step up into projects or roles where they would excel. Evaluate your project allocation process for bias and ensure opportunities on the best projects are available to your historically excluded employees.
It hurts companies’ productivity and profitability by making their highest potential employees less successful. Support your employees with coaching and access to communities that will support their mental well-being and career goals.
It leaves women behind when it comes to promotions and pay increases which are two factors contributing to systemic pay inequities. Conduct regular pay audits and promotion rate audits for systemic inequities – and fix them.
Businesses that want to succeed and stay competitive will have to promote inclusion and create workplaces where everyone feels and is valued.
Impostor syndrome is an uncomfortable feeling that can have negative emotional and professional consequences. However, it can also be a sign that you are in a position of growth and potential. The key to harnessing your feelings for success is to learn not to fear failure, try, make mistakes, learn from them, and be in a constant state of growth. Nobody is perfect, but we can all do better than we think if we overcome our self-doubt.