Impostor Syndrome: What It Is and Why Women Need to Fight It


The term “impostor syndrome” has been around for more than 40 years. People tend to label women as having impostor syndrome far more often than men. People suffering from impostor syndrome feel they are not good enough for their job. They also often fear that others will eventually discover that.

How the Label of Impostor Syndrome Can Hold Women Down

This feeling may be especially common among female entrepreneurs and gig workers. Many feel they must continually prove themselves to new clients. It is a common phenomenon in the workplace. Some researchers feel that impostor syndrome has deep roots in gender bias towards women.

Professionals who study workplace culture say that throwing the term impostor syndrome around is dangerous. It becomes another way to blame women rather than confront the reality of sexism in the workplace. They also believe other types of bias play a role such as racism and classism. Telling a woman she has impostor syndrome can undermine her own feelings about herself. Or, if a woman diagnoses herself with that label, she might feel that she deserves to be treated poorly. Telling a woman she has impostor syndrome without doing anything to help her does little to resolve the underlying issues in America workplaces.

Feeling Unsure Occasionally is a Completely Normal Human Experience

Every person alive, no matter how many credentials they may have or how confident they appear to others, has doubted their abilities at least once. That doesn’t make anyone an impostor, but normal feelings of mild anxiety and questioning oneself have somehow become pathological over the years.

The words impostor and syndrome are especially problematic for women. The first implies they are somehow a fraud while the second labels women as having some type of disorder. That itself is rooted in sexism as it ties back to Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychology to many, labeling any expression of emotion or anxiety by women as female hysteria. Having occasional doubts or worries is different than being given a label, which can feel inescapable.

Name the System Perpetuating Impostor Syndrome and Refuse to Subscribe

Instead of blaming yourself if you occasionally feel inadequate, take a critical look at systemic factors that may be contributing to feeling like you’re not doing a good job and that you don’t belong. When you frequently change companies or roles as an independent worker, it can be difficult to address policies and attitudes that can make women in general feel like frauds. You can attempt to address it with leadership if you feel comfortable and have the time. If not, commit to bringing greater understanding to the issue with online and in-person advocacy.

Additional Resources for Female Independent Workers

From decreasing self-doubt and anxiety to increasing awareness of bias in the workplace, we hope these articles will help on your journey.

Remember that you have just as much right to respect and fair treatment as anyone else.

About the Author: Lisa Kroulik has worked as a freelance content marketing writer for 10 years. She loves the work and the lifestyle it affords. Learn more about Lisa’s work and availability through Writer Access.

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