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Two-thirds of women experience imposter syndrome

Receiving criticism, having to ask for help, and colleagues using technical jargon cause imposter syndrome among female employees

Two-thirds (66%) of women have experienced imposter syndrome at work over the past 12 months, according to a OnePoll study conducted on behalf of Access Commercial Finance.

The research found that men are 18% less likely to experience imposter syndrome than women, with just over half (56%) saying they experienced it in the past 12 months.

Around a quarter of women (26%) said receiving criticism was the biggest cause of their imposter syndrome. Having to ask for help (22%) and colleagues using confusing acronyms or technical jargon (16%) were also cited as key causes.

The research found that employees working in creative arts and design are most likely to experience imposter syndrome, with 87% of those in the sector experiencing it in the past 12 months. This was followed closely by people working in environment and agriculture (79%) and information and analysis (79%).

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester’s business school, said that imposter syndrome can have a long-term impact on an individual’s career.

“Imposter syndrome can inhibit productivity and seriously limit an individual's career progression. Self-doubt can also hold a highly-qualified person back from taking the chances that propel them forward,” he said.

Cooper advised employees to remind themselves of their achievements and recent 'wins' so they "can put [their] feelings of self-doubt into context”.

“Keeping a list of tangible, demonstrable achievements on your phone or written down is very helpful. People experiencing imposter syndrome may also be prone to over-functioning; striving for perfection to 'prove' themselves over and over. This can be counterproductive and make the problem worse,” he added.

“It also helps to talk to colleagues about it. An outside perspective is often all it takes to remind you of why you deserve to feel confident at work."

Matt Haycox, a consultant at Access Commercial Finance, encouraged employers to provide more support for their employees to help tackle imposter syndrome.

“Self-doubt can be the biggest obstacle to overcome, as our findings show, but employers can do more to help. More than one in 10 UK adults said not understanding technical language and industry jargon in the workplace made them doubt their own competence. This is easily tackled with a commitment to plain English and inclusive language,” he said.

“Having to ask for help caused a lot of people to deal with imposter syndrome. Again employers can pre-emptively deal with this by ensuring their people, especially younger employees and new hires, are briefed clearly and given ongoing support as they learn.”

The study surveyed 3,000 UK adults, including 1,574 women and 1,426 men.