Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an impostor or fraud because they think that they have duped the people around them, their boss for example, into believing that their accomplishments are of a high calibre, but in fact believe that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as the praise or promotions they are accorded based on those accomplishments. They have a fear of being "found out" one day to be lacking the skills and intelligence they are perceived to have. Usually, their accomplishments are just as good, and the person is applying an unfairly high standard to themself (and not to others). It's especially common in fields where people's work is constantly under review by talented peers, such as academia or Open Source Software, or taking on a new job.
Effects of impostor syndrome
Women experiencing impostor syndrome may be less willing to put themselves forward, feeling that they are not qualified, by eg:
- not applying for jobs, promotions, and other employment opportunities
- not submitting papers to conferences or journals
- disclaiming or understating their experience/skill when speaking or writing
- nervousness about talking to others in their field, especially if those others are perceived as highly skilled/experienced
- feeling like a fraud
- worrying that someone will find out their lack of qualifications and fire them
- having higher stress
- overpreparing for tasks
- attributing successes to chance or luck
Combatting impostor syndrome
For sufferers of impostor syndrome
- Being aware of it is the first step. Read and talk about it.
- When writing a resume/professional bio/etc or otherwise describing your skills/experience, try to avoid minimising your experience or using softening words like "just", "only", etc.
- Have someone else review or write your resume for you (you can pay people to do this as well). Choose someone who is good at self-promotion. Often men are more likely to be socialized to self-promote than women, although women are often likely to be socialized to help other people promote themselves.
- If you are invited to do something (speak, apply for a job, etc), remember that the person inviting you thinks you are qualified. Denying the person's judgement may be perceived as being insulting, though you don't have to feel pressured to accept the invitation either for whatever your reasons may be.
- Talk about impostor syndrome with friends, back each other up, and offer impostor syndrome support to others if you catch them doing it.
- Pay attention to your language: don't call yourself a failure, don't attribute to luck what is the result of preparation and work and being open to opportunity. Don't insult yourself and don't apologize for yourself.
- Preparing or studying excessively is often recommended as a way to feel more confident, but it confirms impostor syndrome rather than combating it. It also imposes extra cost on people suffering from impostor syndrome and puts them at a disadvantage.
- Asking other people for their opinion of you or to describe your qualifications, keeping a record of your accomplishments and reviewing it, and otherwise seeking objective positive feedback is helpful.
- Distinguish time management skills from your technical abilities. If you did a shoddy job on something just because you ran out of time, recognize it as such and watch your calendar more closely in the future.
For friends and colleagues
- Talk, blog, and share your own experience with impostor's syndrome, especially if you are considered a senior or accomplished person. (It helps to hear from peers as well, of course.)
- Gently and supportively correct each other when people misrepresent their experience as less than it is.
- Write each other recommendations on LinkedIn or other networks.
- Offer to review and help write résumés or biographies.
- Encourage people to accept opportunities and challenges they are qualified for.
For hiring managers, conference chairs, etc
- Reach out individually to women in addition to making a general advertisement for a job/CFP/etc. Telling each woman that you would value her application.
- Avoid asking "please rate your experience/skill" questions during early recruitment phases.
- You may want to do background research about potential Women speakers/job applicants/etc and gain an understanding of their experience/skills separate from how they advertise/present themselves.
- The questions asked in job interviews may help you see past people's impostor syndrome. For instance, if someone says they worked on a project, ask them what they actually did on the project; it may be that they led it, or otherwise had a key role that they won't mention unless nudged in the right direction.
- See also: Impostor syndrome and hiring power on the Geek Feminism blog
- Caltech counseling brochure
- "Unmasking the impostor", an special report in Nature
- Overcoming The Impostor Syndrome blog
- Anonymous Impostor Syndrome story
- "Impostor Syndome" by Tim Chevalier
- Kicking impostor syndrome in the head resources from AdaCamp
- The Empress Has No Clothes: Joyce Roché on impostor syndrome.
- Impostor Syndrome-Proof Yourself and Your Community article by Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora
- The Impostor Syndrome: Mastering the art of pretending by Julie Zhuo
- "#EqualPayDay, 'impostor syndrome', and flipping tables" by Leigh Honeywell
- "We call it 'impostor syndrome', but we’re not sick. The real sickness is an industry that calls itself a meritocracy but over and over and over fails to actually reward merit."