Imposter syndrome. It’s a phenomenon we’ve all heard of but don’t fully understand what it is or how it manifests. Statistics show that more than 75% of people in the workplace suffer from Imposter syndrome, particularly within STEM and other fast-paced fields.  

Here we will explore what imposter syndrome is, how to recognise it, and how to overcome it.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition that can affect people across all walks of life. It typically manifests as feelings of incompetence, low self-esteem, and worthlessness in cases of self-accomplishment, individual skill, or talent.

Studies show that the condition affects a higher percentage of women and those within ethnic minorities. This could be attributed to the fact that some women underestimate their abilities and internalise feelings, but in certain fields, it could also be due to underrepresentation, particularly within more male-dominated sectors, such as the automotive and construction industries.

Ultimately a sense of belonging fosters confidence, and when you don’t see people similar to yourself in your field or within positions of authority, it can make you feel as if you don’t belong. Often, this leads to persistent fears of being exposed as a ‘fraud,’ and causes a tendency to work long hours to prove yourself, despite having education, certifications, and training.

I believe to overcome this, we need to encourage diversity, equality, and inclusion within every sector and workplace. This will create a support system for those suffering from imposter syndrome and open more opportunities for future generations.

Recognising Imposter Syndrome 

No matter how confident a person appears outwardly, imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern that impacts mental health. In the workplace, recognising the tell-tale signs of imposter syndrome can be challenging, but it is key in supporting both yourself and your colleagues who may be suffering.

It is common for people who suffer from imposter syndrome to avoid asking questions due to a fear of failure. They may also find it difficult to accept praise, which results in them attributing their success to luck or other members of the team.

Imposter syndrome can also manifest as high levels of anxiety, stress, and even burnout because that unshakeable sense of inferiority causes a person to spend long periods of time on a challenging task because their self-talk is so negative it impairs them.

Despite the condition being so common, it doesn’t tend to be openly discussed within the workplace because it impacts confidence. Unfortunately, this means people are highly likely to suffer in silence, without seeking help which can cause feelings of isolation.

It’s often difficult to pinpoint the root cause of imposter syndrome, and naturally, it will vary from person to person, but it typically stems from a combination of psychological, environmental, and social factors.

In adults, childhood experiences such as a sense of pressure to achieve can play a role in developing imposter syndrome, and even cultural and societal expectations. On the other hand, a lack of relatable role models or mentors who have overcome similar challenges can lead to individuals feeling as though success is unattainable.

Constantly comparing oneself to others, especially in a professional or academic context, can also contribute to impostor syndrome. Seeing others’ achievements as superior can undermine self-confidence.

Different Types of Imposter Syndrome

When dealing with imposter syndrome, it is important to recognize that there are several different scenarios in which the condition can manifest, and it is possible for an individual to experience a combination.

Perfectionist Imposter: People who suffer from this type of imposter syndrome usually set excessively high standards for themselves and strive for perfection. A perfectionist tends to never be satisfied with their own work, and worries they’ll make mistakes which can result in a fear of failure.

Superwoman/ Superman Imposter: Individuals with this type of imposter syndrome feel the need to excel in every aspect of their lives, whether it’s in their career, family, or personal relationships. They believe they should be able to do it all, and they experience anxiety and guilt when they can’t meet these impossibly high standards.

Natural Genius Imposter: The natural genius believes that if they are truly competent, everything should come naturally and easily. They struggle when they encounter challenges or need to work hard to achieve success, feeling like they must be a fraud if they have to put in effort.

Soloist Imposter: Soloists prefer to work alone and will rarely seek help or collaborate with others. They believe that they should be able to handle everything on their own and feel inadequate if they require assistance.

Expert Imposter: The expert imposter feels a sense of pressure to seek and gain more knowledge. Typically, this is driven by a lack of confidence in their own skill despite being highly competent in their field.

Social Imposter: Social impostors are likely to avoid social situations because they believe they lack social skills or the ability to connect with others, often leading to anxiety or self-doubt in social interactions.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

At a business level, I believe we need to encourage more open conversations about imposter syndrome in the workplace. Having an open forum to discuss the issue gives people access to a support system and will help others understand how best to support their colleagues.

At a personal level, there are tools that can help control imposter syndrome, making it more manageable. The first step is to practice self-kindness. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Mistakes are not a sign of weakness or failure. Mistakes are designed to help us and are all part of the journey.

The next step is to know your strengths and let them shine. Sharing your successes with colleagues allows for celebration and will help to lift you up and feel more confident. Those that suffer from imposter syndrome may find it challenging to recognise individual strengths, so it helps to discuss this with a work colleague or a manager to help you identify your strengths.

Another way to control imposter syndrome and help establish your strengths is to get into the habit of asking for feedback. This will help you develop confidence and resilience while developing your skills for future improvement.

Next, think about what you want to be famous for. Rather than trying to be an expert at everything, it helps to specialise in what you are good at. Remember, you can’t judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree.

Once you’ve identified your strengths, I believe it is highly beneficial to create and continually invest in your own, personal ‘brag file.’ Put simply, make a list of all the things you have achieved in your life and in your career and make a conscious effort to add to it. When your future self-revisits this list, it will remind you just how far you have come.

Another helpful tool is to continually push yourself. While this can sound daunting, doing small things outside of your comfort zone each day will help to stretch you, develop your skills, and help you feel more comfortable in situations where you feel uncomfortable.

Above all, let go of perfectionism. Remember, continuously striving for perfection is a time stealer. Perfection doesn’t exist, so continuously striving for it adds immense pressure.

If you, or somebody you know has imposter syndrome, I encourage open conversations about it. Only then can you begin to identify potential triggers and employ the tools to help overcome them.

Amanda Mortimer headshot
Amanda Mortimer
Management Development Coach at Matchtech | + posts

Amanda has accumulated a rich background in recruitment, working with national brands and boutique agencies. In 2017, Amanda achieved an Executive Coaching certification from AOEC, and in 2021, she achieved a Senior Executive Coach Practitioner accreditation from EMCC. At Matchtech, Amanda's primary role is to facilitate the continuous development of people managers and leaders through a combination of Executive Coaching and other learning initiatives, fostering personal and organisational growth.