What is an ‘Imposter’? Well, according to Merriam Webster it’s “a person who deceives others by pretending to be someone else.” The example given is a male claiming to be an experienced pilot when that was not the case. ‘Syndrome’ on the other hand is often used as a medical term, and they use it when something is wrong with the individual. It is a cluster of symptoms that occur and can be characterized as a condition.
So, this brings me to the question, if ‘Imposter’ is a criminalized word, and ‘Syndrome’ is a medical term, then why is it being used to describe people (often women leaders) feeling out of place in their workplace?
Imposter Syndrome is often defined as an individual doubting their abilities and feeling like a fraud in the workplace. It often impacts high-achieving individuals who struggle to accept their accomplishments. It especially impacts nursing students as 70% of graduate nursing students experience feelings of Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome – A women’s problem?
Imposter Syndrome is often used when talking about women in the workplace, as there is a multitude of studies showing how much women suffer from this Syndrome.
A KPMG study found that 75% of executive women report having personally experienced Imposter Syndrome at certain points in their career, demonstrating that this is an important issue that needs to be tackled.
However, it is much harder to find studies on the impact it has on men. A study conducted in the UK found that 80% of male professionals expressed that they suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Similarly, in the same study, they found that 90% of women professionals also suffered from Imposter Syndrome.
So, if this study shows that both men and women suffer significantly from Imposter Syndrome, why is this viewed as an issue for women?
When famous individuals are used to present how common Imposter Syndrome is, they use predominantly female figures as examples. The examples include successful and empowering women such as Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey, who are successful in their own right in their respective fields. Quite frankly, you wouldn’t imagine these women to suffer from a psychological phenomenon such as Imposter Syndrome.
However, if 80% of men are also suffering from Imposter Syndrome then where is their recognition? Where are the male equivalents of Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey? For example, in an article talking about 12 leaders who have struggled with Imposter Syndrome, only 3 were men. Overall, we can say there has been less research and, consequently, fewer statistics surrounding men and Imposter Syndrome in comparison to the statistics for women.
The problem with stereotypes
There is a stereotype that goes back centuries: women are emotional, men are emotionless. Obviously, we know this is not the case. However, because of this and other behavioral expectations set out for men, it is not always comfortable for them to express their emotions.
‘Toxic masculinity’ is a term that is used so much more in recent years, and it’s a set of behaviors that have often been the ‘norm’ and, dare I say, accepted for men. One of these behaviors is suppressing emotions, including in the workplace, which leads us to the issue of Imposter Syndrome. If men are hiding their insecurities about work and trying to act confident, bigging up their achievements then it’s harder to identify the issues affecting them.
Another problem is that women do the opposite. Instead of bigging up their achievements, they have often diminished them. People can act confident at work but at the same time feel like they have no idea what they are doing, and instead feel like they are failing at work. This is the case for EVERYONE, and it is important to highlight this.
What are the potential problems of Imposter Syndrome?
Psychologist Dr. Audrey Ervin presents the problems of Imposter Syndrome. I’ve put these into three categories: career, opportunities, and relationships.
Imposter Syndrome can negatively impact an individual’s career because they may overproduce to prove to themselves and their employer that they are capable. However, this could lead to burnout and instead be counterproductive.
Individuals could also miss out on career opportunities because they may not feel capable or worthy of the opportunity, leading to them not putting themselves forward. This could also negatively impact their career, and they could miss out on promotions if the opportunity was related to that.
Finally, it could also harm their relationships. If an individual is prioritizing their work over family or friends, then it could cause relationships to suffer as they would not be putting enough time into making them work or progress. This could cause a problem in their personal life, as spending time with family and friends is crucial to maintain a healthy well-being.
Why is this important to businesses? Easy. If even one of these three categories is affected, then it could result in the worker being less-productive and producing less-adequate work. We need healthcare workers, so if they are less productive, or could be more inclined to make a mistake then it could negatively impact the people they are treating.
What needs changing?
Highlighting the positives are important, especially for a topic like this. There are positives to this, since Imposter Syndrome is such a common occurrence there are ways to overcome it. This is not an individual problem, but instead a working environment issue. Therefore, we cannot fix this by looking at the individual, instead, we need to fix the environment this is residing in. It’s important to create an environment that has a variety of different leadership styles, where diverse and flexible models (hybrid working) are seen as just as professional and successful as the current heteronormative models that are in place. Healthcare workers are relied on, so this needs to be addressed.
In terms of men, there needs to be more research on Imposter Syndrome to develop a more accurate understanding of how common this is for EVERYONE in the workplace, not just women. This could occur in medical school for health care workers, and then also be discussed yearly by supervisors to educate the workers. We see this topic discussed at great lengths with regards to women, but men also need to be added to the equation. There needs to be an open space to talk about their feelings and Imposter Syndrome in general. This is a psychological phenomenon that affects a large portion of the workforce, so implementing appropriate training is certainly the first step in eradicating it from the workplace. If it impacts everyone, then surely, it’s in everyone’s interests to prevent it from rearing its ugly head.
Chloe Mumford is a content writer and researcher for US Tech Solutions. After completing her BSc in Sociology, Chloe transitioned over into the workforce management industry with an interest in talent solutions. She writes about on-demand talent solutions, Total Talent Management and the potential of talent technology. She can be reached via LinkedIn.