Imposter Syndrome and Its Relationship to Gender
Imagine you have just landed your dream job. After years of effort and struggle, you are finally there. All you ever did was for this position. You maybe even had to move to acquire it. You are settling down in a city you don’t know. Your friends and family are far away. But you are happy. You are about to have a fulfilling job, a great life in general.
Now, there is your first day, and the second day, your first week. You are still learning. Of course, you are. Because not all the situations you are coming across have appeared in the books or your previous jobs. And you start to feel upset. You feel you have made wrong decisions. That this maybe isn’t your dream job. You feel like not fitting in. But most importantly, you think you lack skills. You are unsure about yourself and whether you actually deserve the position.
And those feelings can worsen if you don’t know what is going on. You might begin to believe that you are a phony, a fraud who will have to put some extra effort on top of everything so that others wouldn’t find out. All of this might lead to anxiety and depression. And those definitely aren’t concerns that you had connected with your dream job, or are they?
Don’t worry, plenty of us have experienced it, or at least one day will be going through the same. This phenomenon is called the imposter syndrome. It was defined in 1978 in the article The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention, by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes.
I myself didn’t know that such a thing existed until a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine confided she was experiencing the imposter syndrome to me, even though she hadn’t started her new job yet. As I found out what it was, I realized that I have gone through similar feelings. When? Every time I would begin at a workplace. And now, while I’m trying to find a new job.
Due to the pandemic, the phenomenon turned into something that I would even call a trend. Something that nearly every job hunter of the COVID-19 crisis has experienced. And with my short article, I would like to shout out again to those because this feeling is actually quite common.
As the name of the 1978 article suggests, it was initially observed on highly successful women. It was rooted in the sex differences in the attribution process. According to those, women tend to attribute their successes to temporary causes, such as luck or effort, in contrast to men, who are much more likely to attribute their successes to the internal, stable factor of ability. Conversely, women tend to explain failure with lack of ability, whereas men often attribute failure to luck or task difficulty.‘ Claim Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes.
But as we already know, it can affect anyone. Dr. Clance herself recalled the term and told Amy Cuddy, a Harvard social psychologist, that she would nowadays call it ‘imposter experience because it’s not a syndrome or a complex or a mental illness; it’s something almost everyone experiences.‘
However, it is worthy of pointing out that certain groups can still be affected more than others. Those would be successful women, especially women of color and minorities. Probably the same ones as nearly fifty years ago. Systematic oppression, both direct and indirect, can leave you thinking that you can’t achieve things, even though you do achieve them. And this is when imposter syndrome shows up.
The phenomenon prevails in white-collar, corporate jobs, where there are still not enough role models for marginalized communities. Dr. Emily Hu, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles’ Thrive Psychology Group, adds that ‘we’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field.‘
So next time you find yourself in a similar situation, try to re-evaluate your competencies and skills. Think about how far you have come to get your dream position. You do deserve it. Prove stereotypes wrong. Say no to imposter syndrome!