Imposter syndrome and how women can overcome it at work

Imposter syndrome at work can keep you from progressing in your career and reaching for the opportunities you deserve. Here are some tips on overcoming it from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's bestselling book, Lean In.



Talk about your achievements as if they were a colleague’s

Imposter syndrome at work stems from a belief that you haven’t really achieved anything because you aren’t truly good at your job.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg cites studies that prove that the prevalence of imposter syndrome amongst women is in large part due to their general lower self-confidence. For example, “assessments of students on a surgery rotation found that when asked to evaluate themselves, the female students gave themselves lower scores than the male students despite faculty evaluations that showed the women outperformed the men.”

Start giving yourself credit for your achievements rather than brushing them off. This can be difficult to do, because we often hesitate to talk about ourselves in the fear of sounding arrogant. When talking about your success, imagine you are talking about an admired colleague. We tend to give praise to others while being self-deprecating about our own accomplishments.

If not, team up with a colleague who is also suffering from imposter syndrome and make plans to talk about each other’s achievements in front of others.

Recognise your innate qualities

Women suffering from imposter syndrome are reluctant to credit themselves with their own success. They tend to give credit to those around them, or to luck.

As Sheryl Sandberg points out, if you “ask a man to explain his success he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she ‘worked really hard’, or ‘got lucky’, or ‘had help from others’”.

Try admitting, even to a close friend, that your skill and talent are what got you to where you are.

Stop internalising failure

A study addressed in Lean In found that “in situations where a man and a woman each receive negative feedback, the woman’s self-confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree.”

When the outcome of our work is less than ideal, we immediately jump to the conclusion that we are incompetent failures in the wrong job. Everyone gets things wrong at times, even the experts. It doesn’t mean that you are unqualified for your position.

Be yourself in the office

Imposter syndrome is essentially the fear that you are acting in your role, that you are playing the part of a successful person. Deciding to simply be yourself can help with that fear. Continue to act the way you would normally when you step into the office. Instead of acting like a woman who is good at her job, you will just be you, a woman who is good at her job.

Know that you aren’t alone

Countless women and men suffer from imposter syndrome. In fact, it seems like the more successful you are, the more likely you are to have it! 

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has experienced imposter syndrome throughout her career. In Lean In, she writes that every time she excelled, she believed that she had “fooled everyone yet again” and that “one day soon, the jig would be up”. 

Stop idolising people

Part of the reason people suffer from imposter syndrome is that they reach the level of their idols and simply cannot believe that they could fill their shoes. People who appear successful from the outside are not super human, and they are not necessarily better than you. Recognise that you too are capable of reaching their heights.

Come clean with your insecurities

If you know that you suffer from imposter syndrome, tell someone. Once you say the words out loud, you start to realise how ridiculous it sounds. The people around you will reassure you that they are confident in your abilities, restoring your confidence in yourself.

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