Impostor syndrome – Are women more susceptible than men?

You are chosen to deliver a project’s presentation in front of clients. And you feel extremely anxious about the thought of it. You are worried that the “big guys” will get to know about you as a failure. You are worried that you might spoil the team’s reputation because of the sheer luck, with which you got the chance to be a highlight. Basically, you feel you are not the right candidate, chosen for presentation.

If you have ever felt this way, BEWARE! It’s actually time to be worried.

Impostor syndrome is an internalized voice that keeps on telling you that “You are a fraud”. It is a psychological behavior where the victims doubt their accomplishments, knowledge, and often fear being exposed. In a survey of over 3000 adults in the UK shows that over 71% of women have suffered from impostor syndrome compared to men (45%) within the last 12 months. This raises significant questions: What causes impostor syndrome? And why women are more susceptible to it? Let’s discuss this in detail.

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What causes Impostor syndrome?

Perfectionism and Impostor Syndrome often go together. The need for perfection manifests in setting extremely high and sometimes impossible standards of work. Sometimes we are just obsessed with perfection in presentations, assignments, public speaking, etc. The truth is they are filled with self-doubt, disdain, and lack of internal acknowledgment of accomplishments. The major cause of Impostor syndrome is the fear of judgment enforced by both nature and nurture.

Nurture or childhood conditioning

Many of us grew up with one or more parents who were perfectionists – Who always looked on the shortfalls? Motivating you by saying, “You might do better”. “This was not expected from you”? or You have to get the first position? – Does that ring a bell?. I hope not. If you as a parent, practicing it, request you to kickstart appreciating your child for his future.

Or Nature

The environment, like a competitive classroom where a student is always trying to prove his intellect. Childhood bullying, student’s condescension, and lashing teachers also create a psychological impact on the behavior increasing chances of him/her becoming an impostor. People with high neuroticism scores (Big 5) are more susceptible to behavioral impact.

Below are some real comments made by the sufferers. If you are able to relate to it, you know its time to pull up sleeves and believe in yourself. Awareness of being an impostor is the first and foremost step to get rid of it.

“I never negotiated salary because I was scared i would get ‘caught.’ I thought that I should prove myself before asking for more money.”

“It’s hard for me to give thorough/complete updates during scrum because I feel like I haven’t accomplished much. My teammates are usually the ones to point out [that I have].”

“I have a tendency to say yes to everything regardless of whether the work is feasible, timeline-wise and workload-wise. It’s led to some 13-hour days at work because I’d bitten off more than I could chew.”

“I don’t try so hard or contribute to group conversations as much. I feel very embarrassed. Even if I contribute an idea that is well received my heart rate goes up and I feel very warm (similar to when I feel panicky).”

So now the last question

Why are women more susceptible to Impostor syndrome?

Here’s a catch. A pattern in the impostor research literature has shown women have shared positive consent over the relatable symptoms of the syndrome.

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Let’s start from the nurture aspect. The nurture of a boy and a girl has been different from ages. Boys are nurtured to be strong and to have externalizing behaviors. While women to be polite, calm, composed, and caring for her family. Though it’s not bad, however, this conditioning is somewhat based on the stereotypes. For the nature aspect, the society we live in has shaped both men and women differently and that affects the psychology of both men and women. Honestly, I have no statistics or reasonable proofs on this. But In my personal experience, I have seen women being usually restrained as “This is not how a woman should speak” or “This is not a women’s job”. It’s a possibility that they establish impostor behavior by the habit of perfection, to achieve social consent, and brawl the stereotypes which eventually leads her to get caught in the Impostor cycle.

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The Ted Talk by Ms. Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) clearly highlights the lack of Women in leadership positions (Women hold 29% of C-suite roles) and a change needs to be brought in.

Needless to say, the phenomenon is gender-neutral and can be manifested by anyone. It doesn’t depend on whether you’re in corporate, administration, or just a student. The symptoms can be exhibited by anyone. Hence it’s always better to look out for early signs, be aware, and believe in yourself.


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