'Fake it till you make it': HR's role in stamping out imposter syndrome

'The first step is to acknowledge that imposter syndrome is real'

'Fake it till you make it': HR's role in stamping out imposter syndrome

Ever felt like a fraudster? As if you don’t belong in the role you’re in? That at any moment people will discover that you have no idea what you’re doing and kick you out of your chair?

Well, it’s not a case of simple self-doubt – it’s imposter syndrome. And it’s toxic.

According to data from The Hub Spot, 90% of female employees suffer with, or have previously suffered from, imposter syndrome. And yet, despite the numbers, only 25% of people are aware the issue actually exists.

“The first step is to acknowledge that imposter syndrome is real,” Donnebra MccLendon, global head of diversity at Ceridian, tells HRD. “And that many, if not most or all of us in some way, are reflections of some aspects of imposter syndrome. We need to normalize that.”

In order to combat imposter syndrome, MccLendon suggests having open and honest conversations around self-doubt – making it part of your overall culture.

“We tell people to bring their authentic selves to work, but we don't necessarily empower them in order to do that,” she says. “Ignoring that fact that imposter syndrome exists really only perpetuates the problem.”

Gender, generational impact of imposter syndrome

While more women suffer from imposter syndrome, it’s not a female-dominated issue. The Hub Spot’s research found that 80% of men also suffer from it – the disease simply manifests in different ways according to different genders.

“Imposter syndrome impacts genders, generations and ethnicities in a different way,” says MccLendon “It’s not just women feeling like they have to ‘fake it till you make it’. As minorities, we're often telling ourselves, or we hear from our families, that you have to be twice as good to be seen as someone's equal.

“You then bring these preconceptions into the workplace - you're constantly thinking about having to be perfect, or having to outperform colleagues, or having to know all the answers. That’s a lot of undue pressure we put on ourselves.”

In times of extreme pressure, imposter syndrome is heightened. Take, for example, the pandemic effect which saw employers switch to remote working models. This in turn led to something of a mental health crisis, a culture of overwork and extreme burnout. Couple that with the isolation that comes with working from home, and the issue is only compounded.

‘Reprogramming yourself – that’s the toughest bit’

To counteract this, MccLendon says employers need to have those difficult conversations and be vigilant when looking out for the signs.

“Employers need to provide the necessary training and programming that's going to help us to address our own biases and confront these stereotypes. Imposter syndromes are awfully rooted in stereotypes. We believe that working women can't be successful in the workplace because they're taking care of their families. So they feel to counter that they have to show up as perfectionists all the time.

“Once we confront these stereotypes and get to the root of the issue, we can address imposter syndrome for what it is. As an HR leader, it’s my responsibility to acknowledge the issue and then to talk about it.

“We need to begin to reprogram ourselves – and that’s the toughest bit. To do that, you need to start with positive affirmations, remind yourself that you are enough. That’s how we’ll address imposter syndrome once and for all.”

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