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Imposter syndrome is a collection of thoughts and behaviors related to feeling like you are a fake or a fraud, despite your accomplishments.
Doubting your abilities, in spite of your accomplishments can create a considerable amount of anxiety, fear, and depression, and it can lead to burnout in the workplace. But sometimes, what might be perceived as “imposter syndrome” is actually the result of a toxic or biased work environment.
Although the solutions for overcoming imposter syndrome often focus on the individual experiencing it, the workplace environment also plays a critical role—especially given that it is most often seen in women and people of color, many of who may not have supportive mentors or colleagues who look like them.
Even if women demonstrate strength, ambition, and resilience, our daily battles with microaggressions, especially expectations and assumptions formed by stereotypes and racism, often push us down. Imposter syndrome as a concept fails to capture this dynamic and puts the onus on women.
When the concept of imposter syndrome was first developed, it didn’t take into account the impact that a biased workplace can have on a person. Lacking this context, as well as the inclusion of a diverse set of participants in the original studies, the focus has been on fixing the individual experiencing imposter syndrome, rather than the environment that might be causing it.
Another factor that makes a person susceptible to impostor syndrome is if they are either a pathbreaker or the first (or only) person of a race or gender to hold a position or ascend to a certain level within the company.
In this situation, not only are they are possibly navigating a biased system, they are often doing so without guidance from others who understand their unique situation.
The best solution for preventing imposter syndrome is for workplaces to become more inclusive. Until that happens, though, in addition to recognizing the role the work environment plays, there are a few strategies people can use to mitigate the effects.
If you can’t find the support you need within your immediate work environment, get creative about finding it externally, such as by joining a professional society or seeking out a mentor from a different division. It helps to identify and name your inner critic to help create a bit of separation from it.
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