International Women's Day 2023: Imposter Syndrome
This year's International Women's Day theme is 'Embrace Equity'. At Walr, we wanted to do that by doing what we do best, creating data. In this blog, we take a deep dive into imposter syndrome to understand how it manifests in the workplace.
International Women’s Day – Imposter Syndrome
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Embrace Equity’. It is a reminder for all that collective activism is necessary for true change.
At Walr, we’re embracing equity by doing what we do best, creating data. Over the course of several blogs, we will be unpacking different themes surrounding gender equity, to get a better idea of people’s views and opinions today.
In this blog, we take a deep dive into the concept of imposter syndrome, a long-standing mental health topic that’s been more regularly debated with the emergence of remote and hybrid working. We decided to survey people working in the tech industry to understand how it manifests in the workplace and add nuance to the discussion; “Is it something women experience more than men?”, “Is the use of ‘syndrome’ incorrect in this context?”, “Is it something we need to fight against or work with?”
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a condition broadly summarized as a fear you will be found out to not be as good as others think you are. The original term ‘imposter phenomenon’ was coined after a study in 1978, which looked at the experiences of high-achieving women. Today, approximately 3 in 5 individuals say they’ve experienced feelings of imposter syndrome. But is it an issue of gender?
We surveyed 1,998 people working in the tech sector across the UK, US, and India, to understand if they have ever experienced imposter syndrome.
70% of participants said they have felt self-doubt or like an imposter at some point in their professional life. Three-fifths (61%) of respondents said they have felt a sense of imposter syndrome in their current position. Two-fifths (41%) claimed they sometimes attribute their successes to luck rather than their own abilities. This is especially true in the UK where half (49%) of British respondents attributed success more to luck, compared to 37% of their American and Indian counterparts. Moreover, 45% of all participants said they have turned down a promotion or job opportunity because of feelings of self-doubt.
Contrary to historical opinion, gender was found not to impact perceptions of who suffers more. Overall, almost three-fifths of respondents (56%) said “men and women are suffering equally from imposter syndrome”.
Interestingly, more than a quarter of respondents (27%) said, “Men suffer more than women”, compared with 17% who said, “Women suffer more than men”.
Within the tech industry, the majority (86%) think imposter syndrome is a very or somewhat common experience, with 75% postulating “the competitive and fast-paced nature of the tech industry” strongly contributes to imposter syndrome.
How Can it Be Managed?
So, if the majority of respondents have experienced imposter syndrome during their career, is it something to be concerned about? And how can it be managed?
In terms of managing feelings of imposter syndrome, half of all respondents (54%) said they have spoken to friends and family about their fears, while a third (33%) said they have sought professional help. Fortunately, 87% of respondents have some level of comfort talking about their imposter feelings to try and resolve them.
From a company standpoint, the best ways to manage imposter syndrome among employees, as given by our respondents, are to:
- Encourage honest discussions (63%)
- Provide support/resources (58%)
- Offer opportunities to develop professionally (51%)
Fostering a culture of psychological safety that normalizes discussions regarding mental health, providing support in the form of wellbeing stipends, and offering continual feedback and access to professional mentorship opportunities, are just some ways employers can get ahead of these feelings of doubt.
Reframing the Experience of Imposter Syndrome
This research has highlighted a few important things:
- Most respondents believe imposter syndrome is experienced by all. This figure varies slightly between age groups (18-34, 58%; 35-44, 50%; 45+, 60%).
- A large majority of respondents are comfortable talking about their experiences of imposter syndrome.
- There are clear ways employers can manage these feelings of doubt.
Regardless of the degree to which imposter syndrome affects you directly, understanding people’s emotions and thought processes when it comes to their job is an important part of building a positive working culture.
This research shows there are some quick wins to help people feel more confident. We have already made strides in supporting positive mental health outcomes in the workplace, as evidenced by people’s comfort talking about imposter syndrome. Now, we must continue these honest conversations with employees, so we can understand what may be concerning them, and where they may need extra praise to validate their actions. We need to destigmatize this ‘condition’ and treat it as a common experience, so we can build an environment where people regularly share their feelings with others.
To survey people working in the tech industry to understand if:
- Imposter syndrome impacts more women than men.
- It is always a negative thing.
- It is a syndrome, rather than emotions or beliefs that come and go.
- 1,998 respondents working in the tech industry, across the UK, US, and India.
- All respondents work on a full- or part-time basis.
- Fieldwork ran from the 17th February to the 23rd February 2023.
- 70% of respondents have felt self-doubt and imposter feelings during their professional life.
- Three-fifths (61%) of respondents said they have felt a sense of imposter syndrome in their current position.
- Two-fifths (41%) claimed they sometimes attribute their successes to luck rather than their own abilities. This is especially true in the UK where half (49%) of British respondents said they sometimes attribute their successes to luck, compared to 37% of their American and Indian counterparts.
- 68% of all respondents said they “feel confident and proud” when they receive positive feedback.
- This varies somewhat when comparing men (71%) and women (65%), and age groups: 18-34 (68%), 35-44 (71%), and 45+ (64%).
- Where we see real differences is by country, where 39% of British respondents said they “downplay the praise and attribute it to luck or external factors”, compared to 19% of Americans and 12% of Indians.
- For most, gender does not impact perceptions of who suffers more from imposter syndrome. Overall, almost three-fifths of respondents (56%) said “men and women are suffering equally from imposter syndrome”.
- In terms of manging these feelings, half of all respondents (54%) said they have spoken to friends/family about their fears, while a third (33%) said they have sought professional help.
- Additionally, 87% of all respondents have some level of comfort talking about their imposter feelings to try to resolve them.
- More than half of respondents try to deal with these feelings positively by seeking out “support and feedback from colleagues and mentors” (55%) or by “engaging in self-reflection and positive self-talk” (55%).
- However, not everyone wants to engage with these feelings of self-doubt as 31% said they are “avoiding new challenges and responsibilities” or “carrying on with my life as usual” (27%).
- Additionally, two-thirds (67%) agreed it is important to deal with these feelings, while just a third (33%) felt it is not particularly important to face imposter syndrome-based doubts.
- The best ways for companies to manage imposter syndrome among employees is to: encourage honest discussions (63%), provide support/resources (58%), and to offer opportunities to develop professionally (51%).
- The majority (86%) think imposter syndrome is a very or somewhat common experience in the tech industry.
- Moreover three-quarters of all those surveyed (77%) said they believe it is somewhat or significantly more prevalent in the tech industry.
- Unfortunately, 45% said they have turned down a promotion or job opportunity because of feelings of self-doubt.
- 75% said “the competitive and fast-paced nature of the tech industry” strongly contributes to imposter syndrome.
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