There’s an odd sort of apprehension tingling up your spine right before that meeting with your boss to discuss getting a raise. A string of questions rush through your mind as you try to remember your talking points and accomplishments.
- What gives me the right to be here?
- Do they see that I’m a fraud?
- When will someone realize my success is all luck?
- Do I deserve what I’m asking for?
These questions are all too common for someone experiencing imposter syndrome in the workplace.
But what is imposter syndrome?
Back in the 1970s, psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Clance, PhD, described imposter phenomenon as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.”
In other words, imposter syndrome is that feeling when, despite numerous successes (professionally and personally), you still doubt yourself and feel as though you’ve tricked everyone around you into believing you’re something you’re not.
While imposter syndrome can affect anyone from a range of genders, identities, and backgrounds, the hardest hit are women and minorities. At times, it can deter individuals from speaking up, taking on new projects, and even asking for a raise in fear that they’ll be “found out” as a fraud.
So we decided to get a group of professional women together to talk about this phenomenon. Here’s what they came up with.
Meet Your Panel
Jade / Sam / Jasmin / Kaye / Victoria
1. Have you ever shied away from accepting or asking for a promotion in fear that you didn’t deserve anything more?
Jade: It’s hard not to make lateral moves — we take jobs that are a step back instead of stepping up. I have yet to see a lot of my male friends take any step back or even stay in any position for a good amount of time. I guess it goes back to value — we don’t think that we’re valued enough or needed enough in that space.
Tory: I’ve never flat out asked for a promotion. I’ve always said “I’m interested in growing; I want to excel,” but I’ve never said, “I want or deserve this position.”
Jasmin: There’s a certain level of acceptance — we don’t always realize the amount of work that we’re doing, and we don’t think that we should be rewarded for it either and not recognized [for it].
2. How have you approached salary talks and negotiations in the past?
Jasmin: I went to a very career-driven college and they always tell you about different salary reqs and stuff, but when someone actually asks you that, it’s a tough question to answer. I definitely undersold myself when I got out of college and didn’t think about it at all. I just felt lucky to have a job.
Kaye: I’m always worried about coming across as entitled if I ask for something. I’ve been at the same company for four years – I know for a fact that in my time here I haven’t been making as much as men in the same position. And I still was like, if I ask I’m entitled. The worst thing they can say is no — I still haven’t internalized that.
Jade: I had a conversation with someone who was hiring and they said: “Let’s find the right candidate, and the company will find the money.” So it’s just about selling ourselves, but being female, especially in the workplace (even when you fought to get to that position), people look at you like, How did you get here? It’s constantly proving yourself every single day. A lot of times you just need to shoot your shot in 2018.
3. Was there a time when you noticed a shift in how you would accept/deny praises?
Jasmin: I’ve found that at my current company I’ve been more willing to accept compliments. It’s hard working with clients who don’t see a person behind the work they’re getting. It’s easy to keep thinking negatively about yourself; it’s hard to surround yourself with positivity, so it’s great to have that support system internally to say: “No, what you did was really really great.”
Tory: When I was younger, I was very shy and HATED being complimented. I would get super bashful and mumble a "thank you" in response. For some reason, my perspective on that shifted at some point that I can’t put my finger on. I accept compliments very graciously now, and I also love giving them! But I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with, especially if you’re accepting a compliment from someone above you.
Kaye: Every time you respond with “No, I’m not” or “That’s not true” to someone who’s complimenting you, you’re saying something mean about someone that person cares about (i.e., you). I’ve tried to keep that in mind whenever someone offers me praise.
4. How has imposter syndrome and self-doubt affected moving forward and leveling up on your career path?
Jasmin: Self-evaluation [at an end-of-year review] is somewhere where I have trouble — writing about myself is so odd; it’s hard for me to articulate my success and wins to a person without thinking I’m coming across as arrogant.
Sam: I replay things that I say in my head that weren’t received well and ask myself, “Am I dumb?” When I do have a good moment in a meeting or do something well, it immediately evaporates into thin air. I feel like my best is the bare minimum. I’ve challenged myself in huge ways, but if I don’t have someone validating me, I’m like, “Well, I’m awful.”
Tory: Any doubt or fear or nervousness [I have] is always rooted in: “What if I get fired because of this?”
Jade: Often when I walk into meetings, I feel out the room first, prior to giving my ideas and speaking to certain topics. Being a woman, a black woman, a gay black woman, and being in this environment — I’m typically the only woman in the room and the only black woman in the room, so I’m looked at as inexperienced or "your experience might not relate to ours." So I silence myself before I start talking, and then people start talking and it’s like, Oh, I was just thinking that.
5. Why do you think it’s hard for some women to appear strong and sure of themselves at work?
Sam: We had someone in my department who came on freelance, and she was so stubborn and confident and forthright, and at first I felt like she was stepping on my toes. One month later, I realized that what I initially perceived as grandstanding was completely founded in her competency. And it’s so hard to embrace that about ourselves that we can be that way.
Kaye: I think a difficult aspect of imposter syndrome is that you see another woman in your field acting like she knows what she’s doing, and you’re like, What’s her deal? But her deal is she’s awesome!
6. How do you work to overcome those insecurities and gain confidence?
Sam: I like to describe myself to people I don’t work with in the best terms possible. I like to do it in a low stakes environment, just to voice it out loud. Like, “I single handedly did this and this and this.”
Kaye: Part of it is having people in your corner and in your camp telling you to look at all these great things that you did. I think people with imposter syndrome tend to think much more about their failures than their successes — focus on any negative feedback (no matter how small) rather looking at any positive.
7. What are your benchmarks for success in your personal and professional life?
Tory: In my professional life, I want to feel engaged, challenged, and fulfilled by my work, and also know that I am helping colleagues I manage to feel the same way in their own careers. In my personal life, it’s all about meaningful relationships with family and friends and being a kind, thoughtful person. To me the greatest measure of success in life is kindness.
Jade: As an adult, every day more and more stuff gets piled on, so I look at things in two categories: as blessings and lessons. Nothing else but that. When you’re brought to a situation (at work or in your personal life), you try to put your whole self to it, and sometimes that gets the job done and sometimes it doesn’t and you can’t be upset when it doesn't. I try to keep my mind as positive as possible when I look at these situations.
8. What do you think is a crucial aspect of overcoming imposter syndrome?
Kaye: As I’ve risen at my company, I’ve tried to remember the things that mentors or managers have done for me and attempt to replicate them for other people where appropriate. And I think that has gone further when trying to shut up the imposter syndrome voice inside.
Jade: A way to combat imposter syndrome is to list your successes. Like journal, literally list — today I sent out 20 emails, I produced this, etc. List your personal successes too. So you can see what you do in 24 hours — wow, that’s a lot!
Sam: Always consider yourself a student of the experience. I’m trying to learn a lot of things on the side. I taught myself photo editing, and it felt so good to get to a point where something that was once a “class" has become muscle memory and made me a lot more confident.
Tory: For me, being a manager has helped me with my imposter syndrome. Having that focus come off yourself and come onto other people — to know what you view as success and what you want for your career and to see other people do that and help them with that. That has what’s helped me to realize my value.
Jasmin: We’re all too good at focusing on the negatives and letting that consume us and our subconscious. So I think a way to overcome that is to actively keep track of your successes to remind yourself of your value and self-worth in and out of the workplace.
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