The word “impostor” is defined as someone who feigns qualifications or knowledge in order to appear knowledgeable. When it comes to women in tech, this word is a double-edged sword. It’s brought on by the feeling of not being qualified enough and the fear that others will discover your secret. For every brilliant, successful woman in tech there’s another who feels like an impostor. The term “impostor syndrome” was coined in the 1980s by clinical psychologist Dr. Pauline experiences. In recent years, its usage has grown with more research conducted into its prevalence among high-achieving individuals, particularly those in fields that are male-dominated. Impostor syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that many people have from time to time.
What is the Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is the feeling that, despite evidence of your success, you don’t believe in your abilities. It’s a phenomenon that exists among high-achieving people of all types who are plagued by a persistent fear that they’re going to be found out as a fraud. While many people experience impostor syndrome in some form or another, it becomes a problem when it frequently interferes with your life or you’re unable to silence the negative self-talk. People who experience impostor syndrome tend to have overly critical inner voices that catastrophize mistakes and view any failure as evidence of their unsuitability for the task at hand. It’s common for impostor syndrome sufferers to put in extra effort to camouflage their shortcomings and appear infallible to others. This can be compounded by society’s unrealistic expectations regarding women, who are often expected to be perfect and effortlessly meet everyone’s expectations.
Why does it happen to women in tech?
Impostor syndrome can affect anyone, but it’s more prevalent in high-achieving individuals who have to deal with the added pressure of being a minority in their industry. Women in tech are more likely to experience impostor syndrome than their male peers, according to research from Stanford and Cal-Berkeley. Women in the tech industry may feel like they have to be flawless in order to be taken seriously. Additionally, the stereotype that all tech workers are white and male can cause women in tech to overcompensate and put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect. Feelings of isolation can also exacerbate impostor syndrome in women in tech. The industry is a male-dominated field and many people may not fully understand the challenges that women in tech face, which can make it difficult to get support.
Strategies to help women in tech overcome imposter syndrome
Challenge destructive self-talk
Impostor syndrome is characterized by the tendency to catastrophize mistakes and view them as evidence of one’s unsuitability for the task at hand. The first step to overcoming these tendencies is to become aware of them. When you notice yourself having critical thoughts, stop and challenge them by asking questions like: “Is this thought helpful or constructive?” and “Am I being too critical about this situation?”
Perfectionism is a red flag
Perfectionism is often erroneously conflated with excellence, so it’s important to understand the difference. Perfectionism means striving for flawlessness above all else, while excellence means doing the best that you can with what you have. Perfectionism can be a sign that you’re mired in impostor syndrome and not allowing yourself to be human.
Surround yourself with supportive people
Everyone who experiences impostor syndrome feels like they’re the only one who feels this way. The isolation that often comes with impostor syndrome can make it even more difficult to overcome. Reach out to other women in tech who you admire and see if they’d be open to discussing feelings of imposter syndrome and ways to overcome it.
Set realistic expectations for yourself
Setting realistic expectations for yourself can help you combat impostor syndrome. If you are trying to accomplish something, set incremental goals that are smaller than the final product. This will make it easier to feel like you accomplished something and will make it easier to start small if you feel like you don’t know how to do something. Additionally, make sure that you are challenging yourself, but not so much that it’s impossible to accomplish.
The fact that impostor syndrome is more prevalent in women in tech shows that we need to find better ways to support and foster a sense of belonging in this community. We can start by normalizing the experience of feeling like an impostor and addressing the cultural reasons why women might be more likely to experience this feeling. We can also encourage mentorship and actively work to diversify the field by fostering a welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds. Ultimately, we believe that the only way to truly eradicate impostor syndrome from the tech industry is to make sure that everyone who works here feels like they belong.