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Imposter syndrome: let’s banish it for good for women in the tech industry


If there’s one phrase we hate to hear, it’s imposter syndrome. We’ve all at one time or another felt like we don’t know what we’re doing. That people will see through us and expose us as a fraud.  In our opinion, whoever decided to slap a name on this feeling and suggest that it is worth our time and analysis has a lot to answer for. And it is concerning that women in the tech industry seem to suffer this more than any other field.

The feelings characterised as ‘imposter syndrome’ are totally normal. We’ve all certainly experienced them. But that doesn’t mean we need to treat them with any weight. Why are we breathing life into a term which does nothing but hold us back?

This is particularly true for women in tech who tend to self-identify with imposter syndrome more than men in tech. Do we really need one more barrier on top of everything else which makes it harder for women leaders, entrepreneurs, idealists and dreamers in the technology industry? Recent statistics show that women still only make up 20% of ICT professionals and it will be another 100 years until we achieve gender parity.

With these sobering statistics, it is no surprise that imposter syndrome is more pronounced for women in tech and the feelings of insecurity may be amplified.  Fewer women in the sector also means more pressure on those women who are technologists; it can feel harder to earn credibility and respect as a technologist, and women can be more harshly judged – often seeming like there is less margin for error and no opportunity to ‘try and fail with support’.

Brigid O’Brien (who has spent 25 years in technology development delivery and is a Consultant at global software consultancy ThoughtWorks) offers some salient points  about Imposter Syndrome. She outlines that:

  • It feels like imposter syndrome is more pronounced for women in tech for a few reasons – there are fewer women in tech and so it feels amplified.
  • The skills are more specialist and technical than perhaps other professions and it’s a really fast moving industry that is constantly evolving and innovating, so there are always new challenges that can cause people — particularly women — to question their expertise and if they have what it takes
  • Because there are fewer women in tech, it places more pressure on those female techies.
  • It feels harder to earn credibility/respect as a technologist, and that we are more harshly judged – plus there seems to be less margin/tolerance for error. In other words, it doesn’t feel like women can ‘try and fail with support’ very easily.
  • We can’t always rely on men to do this because while they will often build women up in their careers to the point where they reach equal status with them, as soon as they become a threat they are no longer supportive (and often go on the offensive).

Female tech leader Margaret Wilde (Executive Enablement and Execution for NAB Personal Banking) is similarly frank about her experiences with Imposter Syndrome within the Australian tech industry.

“I didn’t push myself hard enough, because maybe I thought I was an imposter in the group and didn’t push the value was that I was bringing – instead we feel like that we should be grateful for everything we’re offered, whereas male counterparts are often more willing to put themselves forward for what they think they’re worth – and good on them for doing so,” Margaret says.”

Strategies for women in tech to banish imposter syndrome

We can overcome this. Follow these strategies to banish imposter syndrome for good for women in the tech industry.

Realise that the voice in your head is often wrong

It can feel totally counterintuitive, but it turns out that the voice in your head is often just plain wrong. More often than not if that voice is dredging up negativity time and time again, it’s simply a manifestation of your fears and anxieties, rather than a logical train of thought.

Once we realise that we don’t have to listen to that voice inside our head telling us that we’re not good enough, don’t know enough or that people will think we are a fraud, suddenly we will be free. A useful process is to acknowledge how you’re feeling and what that voice is telling you, determine why you are feeling that way, put that thought to the side and simply carry on. Over time you’ll find that that voice will subside to a whisper.

Acknowledge that other people don’t care that much about what you do 

It’s an unfortunate part of the human condition that we will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid social rejection. It’s a primal and biological urge designed to ensure we make connections – we are social animals after all. However, this fear of rejection leads many of us to live our lives constantly making decisions (or not making decisions) simply to avoid rejection. We worry people will judge us – they’ll think we’re too big for our boots, or we don’t know what we’re doing.

When you think about it, this is a totally illogical way to make a decision. Especially because the truth is that people largely don’t care what you do or don’t do. People are far too wrapped up in their own lives to spend time judging how you spend every waking minute. And those that do are usually a victim of their own insecurities.

Living in fear of judgment or rejection is completely fruitless. Making every life decision through the lens of whether or not someone will accept you for that decision is an absolute waste.

Assuming you’re not a terrible person, the only people you need to answer to are yourself and those you care about.

Recognise that the very nature of doing something new requires you to ‘wing it’

One of our favourite articles from a few years back raised this idea that we are all just winging it, all the time. Think about it, it’s one hundred percent true. Every time you do something new there will always be a sense that you’re winging it – because you are.

We are not suggesting that you shouldn’t be prepared, or get educated, or do your research — we are just saying that every time you do something new it will be unchartered territory. So of course it’s going to feel uncomfortable and a little scary. It will feel like you’re ‘winging it’. If it doesn’t then you’re probably not taking enough of a risk.

Celebrate your difference

Use the fact that you can provide a different point of view, which is one of the key benefits of diversity – coming at it from a different angle due to different backgrounds and experiences.  Organisations need these cross-functional, diverse groups with different attributes and skills as it’s a more honest reflection of society.

Lift other women up — and into the tech sector

Increasing the number of women in tech overall will increase the confidence of women individually and collectively across the sector (power and security in numbers). The more women enter the tech field, the less we as an entire gender are likely to feel imposter syndrome. So network, guide, mentor, sponsor other women! And even suggest it as a new career to smart, promising women you meet or know.

Here’s to banishing imposter syndrome for good for women in tech!

About Business Woman Media

Our women don’t want to settle for anything but the best. They understand that success is a journey involving personal growth, savvy optimism and the tenacity to be the best. We believe in pragmatism, having fun, hard-work and sharing inspiration. LinkedIn

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