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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

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4.1 Imposter syndrome

One of things that mentorship, sponsorship or development programmes can help to combat is imposter syndrome, i.e. ‘the belief that you are less capable than those around you, that your success is the result of luck or other external factors and that you will be discovered as a fraudster’ (Kandola, no date).

A photograph of a person wearing a wig, glasses and a false moustache.

Unsurprisingly, this feeling can be greater in individuals who are from a different demographic to the norm in a particular working environment.

Tulshyan & Burey (2021) ask that we ‘stop calling natural, human tendencies of self-doubt, hesitation, and lack of confidence imposter syndrome’ and instead question the culture in the workplace. They suggest a series of actions that employers can take to end it in their organisations, creating work cultures where all are welcome. These include:

  • Pivot the language employees use to describe themselves – have honest conversations about what it takes to ‘win’; share your own experiences of imposter syndrome; think about the values, ideologies and practices that create it in your organisation.
  • Be honest about the impact of bias – managers cannot be considered effective if they can only manage employees who are like them, and all managers must help to filter out and address biased decision making and communication to their employees.
  • Be data driven and rigorous – measure employee sentiment through anonymous feedback surveys throughout the year, including questions about how much an employee feels they can contribute, grow and learn, as well as the barriers to those things; make current and past demographic data publicly available, including measures on pay equity.
  • Set up accountability mechanisms for change – such as evaluating all employees on how their work performance advances diversity specific company goals; mandating a minimum threshold for year-round participation in awareness-building activities; implementing performance improvement plans with associated consequences for employees struggling to meet inclusion expectations.

While the focus of their article is on the experiences of women of colour, and they talk specifically about sponsoring and mentoring, and reducing biases against this group, there are valuable lessons here in the wider diversity context.

Activity 6 Have you ever felt like an imposter?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

Spend a few minutes reflecting on whether you’ve ever felt like an imposter? How did you feel? Why did you feel like that? Did the feeling wear off quickly? What helped you to overcome it?


Common characteristics of imposter syndrome include self-doubt, disconnection from team members, perfectionism, low self-esteem and fear of failure (Martins, 2021). But there are ways to overcome it, including:

  • Focusing on the facts
  • Sharing how you’re feeling
  • Reframing your thoughts
  • Celebrating what you do well.

By being transparent about opportunities for career progression, and providing appropriate support for those who are under-represented, we can ensure a more sustained approach to diversity and inclusion.