Do you ever experience Imposter Syndrome?

by Jo Wood
Published: Friday, 7 June, 2024

Why women should ditch the imposter label! 

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a growing number of women expressing feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, often attributed to what's commonly known as imposter syndrome.

But what exactly is imposter syndrome, and why might our continued use of this label be holding women back? 

What is Imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a term coined in the 1970s by psychologists and it refers to the persistent feeling of inadequacy despite a person’s evident success. It can affect all demographics, but it’s particularly pronounced among high-achieving individuals, often leading them to doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as frauds.

Is it a syndrome or a normal response to success?

A syndrome typically refers to a pattern of symptoms or abnormalities that occur together and are indicative of a specific condition or disorder. Labelling some of the feeling’s women are experiencing as a "syndrome" might be misleading because while it describes a common experience, it's not a diagnosable mental health condition like anxiety or depression. Rather, it's a natural response to situations where you perceive a gap between your internal expectations and external achievements.

A universal phenomenon?

It’s also a pretty universal phenomenon. Research shows that around 70% of people experience imposter feelings at some point in their lives, regardless of gender, age, or profession. This is certainly backed up by what I experience day to day in my work at Thresholds. But this widespread occurrence backs up my view that imposter syndrome is more of a normal psychological response to growth and new challenges rather than a clinical disorder. Framing imposter feelings as a syndrome can inadvertently pathologise a common experience. It implies that women who feel like imposters are somehow abnormal, which can exacerbate feelings of shame and isolation. In reality, imposter syndrome is a testament to ambition and the desire for growth, rather than a sign of personal deficiency.

Does society contribute to imposter feelings?

Another reason to reconsider the term "syndrome" is that it overlooks the societal and cultural factors that contribute to imposter feelings. Women, people of colour, and individuals from underrepresented backgrounds are disproportionately affected by imposter syndrome due to systemic inequalities. These can range from gender bias and stereotypes in the workplace, such as the perception women are less competent or authoritative than their male counterparts to lack of representation in leadership, unequal opportunities for advancement and societal expectations. When we label it a syndrome, we may further undermine the structural barriers that perpetuate these feelings and fail to address the root causes of gender inequality in professional settings.

So, in my mind, its essential to recognise and address the broader structural factors that perpetuate imposter syndrome while still supporting individuals in overcoming these challenges.

What's a more accurate way to understand and address these types of common yet impactful feelings?

Instead of pathologising them, it might be better to normalise and reframe as a natural part of the human experience. Recognising that most people, including successful professionals, grapple with self-doubt at times can help people feel less alone in their struggles.

Try answering these questions:

  1. Do you feel excited or challenged when faced with new opportunities or challenges?
  2. Are you motivated to learn and grow, even if you're unsure of your abilities at first?
  3. Do you experience a mix of confidence and nervousness before tackling a new task or project?
  4. Are you open to seeking guidance and feedback to improve your skills and knowledge?
  5. Do you view setbacks and failures as learning opportunities rather than evidence of your incompetence?
  6. Do you believe that with effort and perseverance, you can overcome obstacles and achieve success?
  7. Do you recognise that everyone starts somewhere and that feeling unsure or inexperienced is a natural part of the learning process?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions then it’s likely that what you are experiencing is the common feelings experienced when we move out of our comfort zones (yes, this is a good thing!!).

Practising self-compassion, challenging negative self-talk, seeking support from mentors and peers, and focusing on progress rather than perfection can help to reframe some of these challenging yet normal feelings to be an expected part of the process of growing and learning.

Next time you utter the phrase ‘imposter syndrome’ take a moment, be kind to yourself, and don’t let these common feelings of self-doubt hold you back.

About the author: Jo Wood is a Thresholds Facilitator and Public Speaking Coach. Find out more at or LinkedIn.

More from Our Blog

Dare to Dream

Bola Dada
Wed 12 Jan 2022
In 2016 Bola Dada set a goal for herself, to publish a book within five years. Five years on she has completed that goal as her first children’s book ‘Dimple Dares to Ask’ is out on Amazon. As Bola remembers the shocked reaction from others when she shared her goal, it is hard to ignore the magnitude of her achievement.