By Maggie Taylor and Hannah Bloking
I’d like to kick this off by asking you some questions.
When you receive a compliment, do you often attribute it to factors other than your own strengths, such as luck or increased effort by other people (e.g. “…it was a team effort!”)?
Do you feel like you should be able to do everything yourself, no questions asked?
Do you qualify statements you make with ‘This might not be right, but…” or “This might be a dumb suggestion, but…”?
Do you avoid letting on that you don’t know something?
Do you agonize over the smallest flaw in your work because you worry you will be “found out”?
If you saw yourself in one or more of the above, keep reading.
Let me follow that up with a short story. Hannah and I met in late summer of 2020 – a post-COVID world filled with Zoom calls, virtual happy hours, and exactly as much nervousness as you might have meeting someone new in person. Even though we live less than 20 miles apart in the urban sprawl of Seattle, we couldn’t meet in person when our mutual connection suggested we work together to create a session covering Imposter Syndrome.
There was a precedent set for this, which is important to mention. Hannah and I work for two of the best technology companies on the planet and both have successful careers - and we both feel like imposters. Fortunately, we realized we aren’t alone…and neither are you. This revelation was driven by both of us speaking openly about our personal experiences with Imposter Syndrome to different groups in our respective companies and researching this topic that many had never heard of. After several Zoom calls where we compared notes, stories, and lots of planning (!), we co-presented an Imposter Syndrome webinar to 60 DocuSign WISE members and allies. After we received positive feedback on our session, I decided that it would be beneficial to widen the audience and I asked Hannah to help me reframe our topic for all of you at PreSales Collective.
So, what is Imposter Syndrome?
It can affect anyone, regardless of professional expertise, social status, background, or skill level. In fact, 70% of professionals experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their careers. The term was first used by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. Their study was initially limited to women in academia, but the field quickly realized these feelings can manifest anywhere, for anyone. This is why Hannah and I thought it was such an important topic to cover for our colleagues and create an inclusive workshop experience that included all gender identities – not just women. Our experiences taught us that these feelings can be dispelled (especially at work) through storytelling, education, and transparency.
Although many people report these feelings at some point in their careers, people who are underrepresented in the workplace or identify with marginalized groups can be hit harder. These feelings tell someone that they might have ‘lucked’ out by getting their job, rather than working hard and earning it.
Imposter Syndrome for Tech Professionals
Did you know that everyone you admire professionally has likely experienced this and just never spoken about it? Imposter syndrome can affect everyone – from individual contributors right up to the C-suite.
The anonymous workplace social network Blind conducted a survey to determine how many of the site’s users grapple with intense feelings of insecurity in tech fields. Blind’s user base includes 44,000 Microsoft employees, 29,000 from Amazon, 11,000 from Google, 8,000 from Uber, 7,000 from Facebook, and 6,000 from Apple – and this is just to name a few. From Aug. 27, 2018 through Sept. 5, 2018, Blind asked its users one question in a survey - "Do you suffer from Impostor Syndrome?" Of the respondents, Blind found that 57.55% (5,986) of 10,402 surveyed users have experienced Impostor Syndrome (CNET.com, 2018).
In April 2021, we polled the PreSales Collective (PSC), a diverse community of over 11,000 tech professionals, the same question as Blind – “In the last twelve months, have you experienced Imposter Syndrome?” Our week-long survey, hosted by James Kaikis, Co-Founder of the PSC, resulted in 1,063 votes. Eighty-two percent (82%) of respondents stated that ‘yes’ they’d experienced imposter syndrome.
Okay, why does it matter?
There may be nothing we can do to cure ourselves of imposter syndrome, but that isn’t actually as bad as it sounds. By acknowledging that this feeling exists and creating a corporate culture of awareness by opening lines of conversation on the topic, your organization can foster a culture of honesty and trust between leadership and employees.
Imposter Syndrome holds employees back from pursuing opportunities. In Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead she cites “An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements. This difference has a huge ripple effect.” Combatting imposter syndrome means that your employees (and you!) can feel confident when sharing ideas and rise to the occasion to grow professionally instead of scaring themselves out of it.
Actionable Steps – because who doesn’t appreciate direct results?
Hannah and I want to leave you with some tips that we’ve used and learned along the way. We hope that these concrete actions help you identify and combat imposter syndrome in your own life, both professionally and personally.