New research, that surveyed 5,000 individuals from different demographic groups, found that while imposter syndrome is common, with half of UK adults impacted by the phenomenon, some groups suffer more than others. 

54% of women feel they have experienced imposter syndrome, compared with just 38% of men. However, people who identify as non-binary are the worst impacted of all genders, with 57% doubting their abilities in the workplace.

The research found that a person’s sexual orientation also impacts their experience. Bisexual (69%), Queer (68%) and Homosexual (57%) individuals were significantly more likely to experience it than average (50%).

Both Gen Z (66%) and Millennials (58%) were much more likely to have experienced imposter syndrome than Gen X (41%) and over 59s (25%).

Of the 50% of those surveyed that have experienced imposter syndrome, almost three-quarters (72%) feel it has held them back at work and 43% have experienced it at least once a week.

People who are high achieving before entering the workplace seem to suffer more, as the higher the level of education gained, the more likely an individual is to have experienced imposter syndrome: only a third (33%) of people educated to a secondary education level reported having experienced those feelings, compared to 62% of those with PhDs.

The job sector that you work in has the biggest impact on your chances of experiencing these feelings.

The jobs with the highest levels of imposter syndrome are:

  • Science and Pharmaceuticals (78%)
  • Marketing, Advertising and PR (72%)
  • Recruitment and HR (67%)
  • Information research and analysis (67%)
  • Publishing and journalism (64%)

The jobs with the lowest reported levels were:

  • Property and Construction (29%)
  • Transport and Logistics (31%)
  • Engineering and Manufacturing (39%)
  • Retail (44%)
  • Environment and agriculture (45%)

Impacts and perceptions

Feelings of imposter syndrome manifest in a number of ways. 30% of adults often doubt themselves and their contributions whilst at work, while 61% are worried about making a mistake.

The top five triggers of imposter syndrome were found to be:

  • Comparing myself with other people at work (53%)
  • Working on a high-pressure project (37%)
  • After receiving negative feedback (35%)
  • Getting a new job (35%)
  • Giving a speech/ presentation (27%)

Even with the high prevalence of workers reporting feeling like an imposter, it is clear that individuals feel isolated and that their managers and colleagues were unlikely to suffer from it. Over a third (36%) assumed their manager rarely or never experienced imposter syndrome, while a quarter (26%) said they didn’t know. There is a clear need for open conversations on the topic.

Mike Worley, Managing Director of Executive Development Networkhttps, commented:

There is a huge inclusivity issue here in the UK. Women, non-binary people and non-heterosexual orientated people are far more likely to experience a condition that the majority of people agree can hold you back from progressing at work. With fewer diverse individuals reaching leadership roles compared to their male or heterosexual counterparts, these issues will continue to be amplified. Businesses need to empower their whole workforce with training, to make sure everyone is confident to work to their full ability and feel confident doing so.

Mike Worley, Managing Director of Executive Development Network

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.