21 Jan 2021

Unosquare’s Women in Tech Guild (WIT) is committed to building a strong community of women who support each other professionally because we believe that when a woman helps another woman, they both benefit. We chartered this group to improve our technical and soft skills and grow professionally. Our mission is to bridge the gender gap in the technology industry and attract more women to our ranks. 

I have written this post for my colleagues to help identify a problem that impacts more than 75% of women, especially women of color and the LGBTQ community. That problem is Impostor Syndrome. Let's take a look at what it is, how to identify it, and, most importantly, how to overcome it. 

What is Impostor Syndrome, and how does it affect your work?

Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern involving intense feelings of self-doubt where a person feels like a fraud despite the external evidence about their accomplishments and competence. Those who suffer from this Syndrome strongly believe that they don't deserve their achievements or that it was only luck that they were successful.

Individuals who suffer from Impostor Syndrome internalize the thought that they are a fraud because they underestimate their abilities, intelligence, and capabilities. Moreover, the constant fear of being exposed as a fraud increases their anxiety levels, driving them into depression.

Impostor Syndrome can affect all professional areas without distinction. However, with its accelerated growth, individuals in the tech industry are particularly susceptible due to the constant mountain of pressure to be successful. Tech professionals need to continually learn and process information to keep up to date in an environment where new features and technologies are released every day. Recent studies have reported that as many as 58% of employees working at large tech enterprises, including Facebook, Apple, and Uber, have suffered from Impostor Syndrome. 

What are its symptoms?

The general, underlying feeling of Impostor Syndrome is that you believe you are a pretender. Either you didn't earn your position and don't deserve your achievements or got them by chance.

At this point, questions and doubts start to fill the mind of the tech professional:

  • "What am I doing here?"
  • "I am not a developer. I am fooling myself and other people." (feels fake)
  • "I have no idea how I got through the interview process." (feels only luck dictates results)
  • "My IQ is not high enough to work here." (doubts inherent ability)
  • "I need more training to feel like I deserve to be here."

Also, frequently there are expectations of failure:

  • "If this becomes difficult, I will quit. I am not intelligent enough."
  • "Why am I trying if I will fail anyway?" 
  • "I don't know how I did something before, and I don't know how to do it again." 
  • "I'm not sure if I will be able to meet the team's expectations."
  • "I will be ridiculed and fired when people realize I am not as smart as I portrayed myself as being."

All those thoughts lead you to experience negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, and dejection despite external evidence of their competence. 

What are its causes?

There are many causes related to this Syndrome, and studies estimate that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of the Impostor Syndrome in their professional or personal life. Let’s look at some of the frequent causes:

Certain early family dynamics  

The family rewards their children according to labels like the "intelligent one," "good one," "beautiful one," "smart one," and so on, giving them the false idea that they only possess one ability and nothing more.

Social stereotypes  

At times, people who belong to minority populations have the notion that they don't fit in, they are not enough, or they don't deserve their achievements or the good things happening to them.

Sexual stereotypes  

Studies have shown that women suffer more impostor syndrome than men, especially in work environments dominated by men. Evidence has proven women consistently have lower expectations than men of their ability to perform successfully on specific tasks.

New social, academic, or professional environments 

People often compare their success with that of their peers by paying a lot of attention to others' accomplishments and disregarding their own.

What about the tech industry? 

Let's identify some of the common scenarios that might lead us to suffer from impostor syndrome:

Starting a new job in a company 

The new work environment, new rules, and procedures can be intimidating, leading you to think that you will not make it.

Receiving a promotion 

When you are entirely new in a role, you have doubts about fulfilling the new position, like the first months when you are new to a project, and you have to learn new techniques and acquire new skills. For example, when you are, a backend developer in Java and the team needs you to switch to a frontend, Javascript position. 

Challenges 

Taking or receiving an assignment more significant than you are used to could feel like it's automatically setting you up for failure, questioning their experience and skillsets.

A growing pressure to meet increasing expectations

Expectations could be self-imposed, triggered by a recent promotion, or the taking on of additional responsibilities.

How does the Impostor Syndrome affect your professional life?

There are several ways in which Impostor Syndrome can affect professional development, for example:

Self-doubt freezes performance, stopping the pro-active approach of taking new challenges or being more proactive due to fear of failing or not being enough.

A lack of confidence limits communication that becomes evident in minimizing expressions:

"I think, but I could be wrong." 

"I am not sure, but it can work." 

Low self-esteem can cause someone to have more faith in the capabilities of others than their own. With such self-doubt, someone may ask for a colleague to share their ideas for fear of rejection. It is frequently the case that people in this mindset are unlikely to ask for career advancement opportunities or promotions. 

People that suffer from the Syndrome are unlikely to work to their full potential, having difficulty concentrating and meeting deadlines. Their elevated anxiety level and stress affecting their productivity as well as their mental health.

How to overcome the Impostor Syndrome

The principal problem with Impostor Syndrome is that people get immersed in highly unrealistic thoughts about their abilities or capabilities. To put your ideas into perspective, you can talk about your feelings. Expressing what is on your mind is the most powerful thing you can do against Impostor Syndrome. You can speak with colleagues, friends, or if you feel more comfortable, you can talk with a professional therapist. 

The main idea is that you realize that you let go of perfectionism and understand how to feel worthy of your successes. When you talk about things, you may find more people who, like you, are struggling, and you can see nobody has their life resolved, and it is perfectly fine to make mistakes. 

If you have found yourself suffering from Syndrome, you may have been making unfair comparisons with yourself to other people you think are more skilled than you. This mistake increases your self-doubt and lowers your self-esteem. It isn't wrong to want to become a highly skilled person. The bad thing is being hard with yourself and only focusing on the things you are lacking. 

Instead, start to recognize that there are many things that you do better than others. Of course, don't forget that everyone is on their path, but take this as an exercise to identify your own qualities.

Thoughts are the driver of Impostor Syndrome, so be aware of them. When you get caught by anxiety, stop whatever you are doing for a moment, and analyze what is going through your mind. What exactly is making you anxious? Is it rational? 

Write down those triggers. When you try to give your issues a form, you can find some clarity to baseless thoughts, and you can start to slow or stop the train of anxiety. 

Another way to fight negativity is to think about the positives. Celebrate actual achievements, recalling past successes, and keeping a record of positive feedback from others.

Following these exercises will help someone become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. When best qualities come to light, put them in a list. This record will relieve worries about qualifications and provide a fresh perspective of achievement. 

     Make this your mantra:

"Being wrong does not make you a fraud." 

Repeat it whenever necessary, and remember: making a mistake isn't the end of the world. We often get overly attached to our accomplishments, and we think that if we aren't perfect, we lose value. But it's okay if you're wrong, you can learn from it and improve your knowledge.

Calls to Action

It is possible that a coworker, or even yourself, is suffering from Impostor Syndrome. Here are a few actions you can do to create a work environment friendlier for you and all who suffer from this Syndrome.

  • Recognize the things that your coworkers are doing well and let them know.
  •  
  • Find a career mentor who can help you identify gaps in your knowledge and create a clear path to achieve your career goals. Above all, a mentor will help you become more confident at work by talking through your anxieties and career concerns. If you can, be a mentor too.
  •  
  • Don't be that person who is continuously trying to prove they're the smartest person in the room by putting other people down. Being humble and ready to learn from other folks helps you grow better and faster. It also makes you a good coworker.
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  • Be assertive when you are giving feedback to others. 
  • If you're a leader, you have a great power to make a real change to create a more supportive work environment.
  •  
  • Be vulnerable and admit your shortcomings and mistakes.

When you create an environment where it's okay not to have all the right answers, a place that encourages the concept of trial and error, this will help those feeling like an impostor realize that no one is perfect, and they need to keep trying.

Business managers and leaders must first recognize and acknowledge that these problems exist and create a safe space where everyone can have open conversations.

Conclusion

I have suffered from Impostor Syndrome without knowing anything about it, and it was a difficult time. For this reason, I decided to write this article. 

Do you remember the first point to overcome Impostor Syndrome? It was to talk about your feelings. Now I am sharing my feelings with you, dear reader, and I want to let you know you are not alone and not afraid of talking about it. 

This Syndrome is pretty common, and with the simple act of expressing your concerns and feelings about it, you can set others free who are feeling like you. I encourage you to be informed about the Syndrome, identify the symptoms, and take action on it. If you are suffering through this, you can overcome it! I hope this article has been helpful for you and I can assure you that you are not an impostor!

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