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Hunter Johnson for Educative

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HerCode: Tips for overcoming imposter syndrome

Although it can be easier just to brush off imposter syndrome as an individual problem, it’s important to recognize how much impact our workplace can have on us as individuals. Our workplaces can be microcosms of human interaction, all of which have the power to make either positive or negative contributions to our sense of belonging, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Approaching these issues together as a community can be much more constructive because changes can be made on an organizational rather than an individual level.

As of 2022, fewer than 20% of all software developers positions are held by women. Women also represented only 6% of all CEOs in the S&P 500. One of the reasons why having conversations about imposters syndrome is important is because it disproportionately affects women in fields dominated by men, and can drive out much-needed talent.

In this article, we’ll detail what imposter syndrome looks like and how it can undermine the confidence of even experienced individuals. We’ll talk about how the presence of gender biases can aggravate imposter syndrome and what we can do to minimize its impact.

Let’s get started!

Table of contents:

  • What is imposter syndrome?
  • Who does imposter syndrome affect?
  • How marginalization can worsen imposter syndrome
  • 5 tips for minimizing imposter syndrome
  • 5 tips to improve the workplace for your peers
  • Wrapping up and next steps

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is largely characterized by the persistent feeling of being inadequate or unqualified. Despite all evidence to the contrary, an individual with imposter syndrome may be convinced that whatever success came their way was a fluke and that it’s just a matter of time before they’re found out as a fraud. As a result, this "imposter" tends to downplay their achievements and worry that others are overestimating them.

So why is it important for us to address imposter syndrome?

For one thing, imposter syndrome can greatly exacerbate anxiety, which can lead to burnout.

Burnout is another psychological syndrome characterized by the following:

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Feelings of cynicism
  3. Reduced personal accomplishment
  4. Physical fatigue
  5. Cognitive weariness

Prolonged exposure to work-related stress and anxiety has been found to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and ill health.

Who does imposter syndrome affect?

While imposter syndrome can be experienced by just about anyone, reports of women experiencing imposter syndrome are widespread in male-dominated fields like tech. Women were 22% more likely to experience imposter syndrome in the workplace than their male counterparts. Imposter syndrome also tends to pop up when we take on new jobs or more responsibilities.

Imposter syndrome generally affects high-achievers, perfectionists, people who have no shortage to the list of their accomplishments. Imposter syndrome can be brutal for women in tech because they are often subject to gender biases, racial biases, ageism, exclusion, and added scrutiny.

Having your competence and value as a person constantly called into question can cause even the most qualified individuals to experience reluctance or self-doubt when pursuing leadership roles or more ambitious projects. If you have talented, skilled employees who are unconvinced in their success, that can also diminish job satisfaction and cause them to seek employment elsewhere.

Leaders and managers who take the initiative to eliminate the factors that allow imposter syndrome to thrive can, in turn, create a healthy and prosperous workplace environment for every employee.

How marginalization can worsen imposter syndrome

Internal biases can be difficult to identify within yourself, but they can have a powerful effect on how you perceive and subsequently treat others. These internal biases can occasionally emerge in microaggressions or other forms of discrimination that can isolate individuals, exacerbate self-doubt, and set an unwelcoming tone in the workplace.

A few examples of how gender biases can affect women in the workplace:

  • Volunteering women for secretarial tasks: Women are sometimes asked to handle secretarial or clerical duties not found in their job description (e.g., asking them to take notes at a meeting or putting them in charge of planning office parties).
  • Unequal pay for the same position: Being paid less than your peer for the same work sends a clear message that your time is worth less than theirs.
  • Taking credit for a woman’s idea: Unfortunately, there is a long historical precedent of women not being credited for their groundbreaking work (see Rosalind Franklin) and Jocelyn Bell Burnell among many others).
  • Interrupting women in conversation: Interjecting women before they complete their sentence can communicate to them that you value your opinion above theirs.
  • Only addressing men in conversation: If a woman is directing a question at you, it’s common courtesy to make sure you are directing your answer back towards them and not towards one of their male colleagues.

Unchecked gender biases can lead to situations where women are disrespected, further alienating them in fields where they are underrepresented. This exclusion can exacerbate imposter syndrome in an individual because imposter syndrome already preys on the anxiety that they don’t deserve to occupy the same space as their work colleagues.

Fortunately, there are some ways to identify and combat imposter syndrome in ourselves and help alleviate it in others.

5 tips for minimizing imposter syndrome

  1. Respond to failure with self-empathy. Imposter syndrome can make the prospect of failure overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. It’s important to prevent your feeling of self-worth from being tied to the successes or failures you experience. Be kind to yourself when you fail.
  2. Neutralize negative self-talk with positivity. If you catch yourself criticizing yourself harshly, remind yourself that you are capable and have worked hard to get where you are.
  3. Recognize your achievements. Be proud of your accomplishments! Don’t be afraid to celebrate your successes. The stereotype that women should be meek and humble can socialize women into believing that they should reject praise or brush off compliments. Rather than appearing humble, this can lead others to view you as an unconfident person.
  4. Seek out a network of women in your field. Introduce yourself to other women in your field. Attend conferences, local meetups, or join professional networks. Having a supportive network can open up many opportunities to advance in your career.
  5. Fake it ‘til you make it! Imposter syndrome is much more common than you think. Everyone has moments of self-doubt, and it can be really hard to feel like you don't know what to do, and that your actions are under heavy scrutiny by others. One way to get past this roadblock is to proceed as if you are confident, regardless of how you may actually feel.

Bonus tip: If you’re struggling with feeling confident, try starting a “Motivation” folder that contains positive feedback or praise. Whenever you receive a compliment, take a screenshot and save it to the folder! Visit it whenever you need some encouragement.

5 tips to improve the workplace for your peers

  1. Support and mentor women. One of the best ways to help women in the workplace is to extend your support as a mentor, contact, or future reference. Let them know that you are more than happy to help them achieve their career goals. Career support can be a great way to communicate that your workplace has upward mobility for women seeking leadership roles.
  2. Strive for a more inclusive workplace. Take the time to make sure that your coworkers or employees feel welcome and comfortable. Only 1 in 4 technical positions in the U.S. are filled by women, so make sure that they know their voice and input are valued. In addition, make sure to hold people accountable for their actions. People should always feel safe where they work.
    • Check out Educative Sessions #49: "Creating Safe Communities, the Indie Gamer Way" with Angel Mero, a community manager at Seattle Independent Developers.
  3. Recognize the achievements of your peers. When your colleagues are doing well, let them know! Make sure that they are getting credit for the work they accomplish.
  4. Connect women with career advancement opportunities. Encourage women to pursue leadership and management roles. Connect them to opportunities that would be a great fit for them whenever possible. Imposter syndrome can hold people back from applying to jobs that they would excel at!

    "I ended up getting a job with Atlassian, but I was **so close* to not even applying for it because I know that their interview process is quite hard and I was trying to convince myself there was no way I'd get through it."*

    Rachelle Rathbone

  5. Uncover your implicit biases. It’s important to cultivate a habit of reflection because moments of introspection can help you uncover and dismantle biases. Take a moment to question what assumptions you may be making about the people around you, and how those assumptions shape your interactions with them. Greater self-awareness can help you recognize what habits and behaviors are reinforcing negative stereotypes!

There is still controversy on whether or not gender bias contributes to the under-representation of women in technical and scientific fields. However, recent findings suggest that simply being aware of gender biases can help to level the playing field for women who are up for evaluation.

Wrapping up and next steps

At Educative, we're always striving to make sure that you have the right resources to confidently pursue new careers or advance in your current one. We believe that with the right support, everyone has the potential to succeed in achieving their goals. With that in mind, we want to motivate everyone to seek out opportunities, even if they're struggling with feelings of inadequacy.

"If there's something that you want to do, don't convince yourself not to go for it. Worst-case scenario, you apply for a job that you want to do and you don't get it. You apply to speak at a conference and you don't get selected, right? In the worst-case scenario, you just don't get that. But if you don't push yourself to at least try, you could really miss out on it."

Rachelle Rathbone

Imposter syndrome can be tricky to navigate. There are no guaranteed solutions that will completely eliminate feelings of inadequacy. However, we can do our best to be more self-aware of how harmful patterns of thoughts can hold us back. When we're more self-aware, we can be more conscientious and fair with ourselves and each other.

Learning strategies to improve your resilience in the face of adversity can help to some degree but it’s ultimately up to the leaders of an organization to adopt standards and practices that emphasize a supportive and open work culture.

If you’d like to learn more about women in tech, check out some of the great resources below.

As always, happy learning!

Continue learning about women in tech on Educative

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