Imposter Syndrome is more common than you might think. Studies show that 56% of men, 66% of women, and 70% of millennials have imposter syndrome (Access Commercial Finance, International Journal of Behavioral Science), which is the persistent belief that one is a “fraud” or will be exposed for not being “good enough.” Imposter syndrome is linked to perfectionism, fear of failure, seeking external validation to support one’s sense of self worth and undermining and not internalizing one’s accomplishments.
When you come from a cultural background, you are also impacted by the lack of representation of women from your background throughout your lifetime. Having lower numbers of role models and mentors who have walked a similar path can affect your ability to feel like you belong where you are or where you want to go. The double glass ceiling of gender and ethnicity both factor into imposter syndrome that many women of culturally diverse backgrounds experience.
When you have it, it is visceral. You feel it in your bones or in the pit of your stomach when you walk into a room.
Perhaps the effects of imposter syndrome on your mental and emotional health are obvious. When you feel you are undeserving of your position at work, your stress levels go up. You might fear being authentic at the office, because if you let your guard down, someone will realize you don’t belong there, you don’t know what they thought you did, or you aren’t as qualified as they assumed. The negative self-talk reinforces harmful thought patterns and can contribute to anxiety and depression. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how much you accomplish or how much positive feedback you get. Unless you shake yourself out of that cycle of negative thinking and start owning your space, imposter syndrome will stick around.
What is maybe less obvious is the effect imposter syndrome can have on your career trajectory. Here are a few ways that happens:
1. Raises build from your starting salary
At Veza, we often talk about negotiating for what you deserve. However, if you don’t believe you deserve a position, you’re unlikely to ask for a competitive salary. Most people get 2-3 significant bumps in salary over their careers when they change jobs. If you stay at the same company for a long time, you’re always being evaluated based on the salary that you currently earn. It might be straightforward enough to get an annual 3% raise (which is just over the rate of inflation per annum), but that percentage growth becomes a much higher number when you’re earning $120,000 per year versus $55,000. That is why coming into a role with a strong ability to leverage your past experiences, own your strengths and accomplishments, as well as know what is competitive for someone with your career experience is so important. Setting yourself up with a higher base salary has a long-term impact on your earning potential and your financial wellbeing.
When someone has imposter syndrome, they tend to not put themselves forward for promotions. A related phenomenon is what has been coined the “confidence gap,” represents the gulf between how men and women view their skill sets, believe they will succeed and feel that they are worth hiring, promoting, and paying well. The confidence gap is maybe best illustrated by a review of Hewlett Packard’s personnel records, which found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job! Men applied when they thought they could meet 60 percent. However, no studies have found a difference in the quality of work between women and men – it’s in the beliefs we hold about ourselves.
3. Taking new opportunities
Much as with promotions, imposter syndrome tries to keep you in your comfort zone, where success is more likely, when it comes to taking new opportunities. It could be an outside job offer or a professional development course, but even opportunities like speaking engagements get passed over because of imposter syndrome. If you are telling yourself to stay small and that you might be asked a tough question you can’t answer if you step into the spotlight, you tend to be more intimidated by these opportunities.
4. Thinking you need to keep your head down
A huge impact imposter syndrome has on team dynamics and a company’s bottom line is the fact that it encourages people to not speak up. It makes sense. If you feel that you have something to prove, you keep your head down, work hard and hope that your work speaks for itself. Unfortunately, that means you aren’t advocating for yourself on a regular basis. That means you get passed over and you are seen as not contributing as many ideas as others around the table, which might result in you not immediately coming to mind when new opportunities arise.
How can you combat imposter syndrome and its effects on your career and your life? The most important thing is to remember that what you are telling yourself does not reflect reality. Usually imposter syndrome feeds off of false narratives that you tell yourself. The first step is to work to understand your strengths and internalize your accomplishments. Many incredible women we work with in leadership coaching have dealt with imposter syndrome, so we created a resource to help them to do just that. If you’d like a complimentary copy, you can download it here.
Wondering if you have imposter syndrome? Take our quiz to find out!