Women aren’t suffering ‘imposter syndrome.’ They’re experiencing workplace discrimination.

Man speaking over a woman

Too often, the phrase “imposter syndrome” is thrown around to describe women’s feelings of inadequacy in the workplace. In many cases, the words shield a much larger problem: discrimination in the workplace.

Western conceptions of leadership often centre on masculine ideals of tough bosses characterized by harsh, over-confident attitudes. Other leadership styles—like ones taking a more “feminine” approach, promoting compassion and empathy—are looked down upon for no other reason than that they contradict our masculine ideals of good leadership.

But there’s no one right way to lead, and women who find themselves shying away from more aggressive leadership styles are just as competent as male counterparts who might embrace this type of leadership.

Still, many women feel inadequate in the workplace. Imposter syndrome, characterized by feeling that you’re not as competent as others think you are, has become a hot topic as of late and is disproportionately applied to women.

Women’s seminars and conferences teaching women how to combat feelings of imposter syndrome are common but, as well-intentioned as they may be, miss the point. Too often, “imposter syndrome” is used to place the onus on women to overcome discomfort in the workplace, when workplaces should instead be working to ensure the comfort of their staff—regardless of gender or race.

Casually throwing the words “imposter syndrome” around only veils the true reasons so many women feel this way: subtle and not so subtle discrimination in the workplace.

Workplace double standards punish women for being too quiet, yet discourage them from being too pushy or outspoken. Feelings of inadequacy haunt many working women not because they aren’t competent, but because of racist and sexist microaggressions in their places of employment.

Often, women feel they have to work twice as hard as men to be recognized in the workplace, and for women of intersecting identities, career advancement can be even more difficult. Labelling these feelings as characteristic of “imposter syndrome” only serves to dismiss their causes.

It’s high time we stopped throwing around the words “imposter syndrome” and instead question why men are allowed to feel confident and entitled in the workplace while women struggle to trust their own successes.

Teaching women to feel more confident in the workplace with superficial fixes like power suits and bold lipstick only teaches them their feelings of inadequacy are completely internal, disregarding external factors instilling these feelings in women in the first place.

Stop telling women they’re suffering from imposter syndrome and start addressing why workplaces are producing these feelings in the first place. Recognizing the ideas and work of women isn’t just good for business—it’s essential to embracing the diversity of different employees and working styles.

—Journal Editorial Board 

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