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Exploring the Link Between Imposter Syndrome and Inclusion

Updated: Feb 26

Overcoming Self-Doubt and Fostering Belonging

What if they find out I’m not as competent as they think I am

“I’m not good enough”

"I don’t belong here”

"I’m not as successful as I should be”

"I'm a fraud”

If these are things you are telling yourself, you are probably experiencing imposter syndrome. People who experience imposter syndrome doubt their accomplishments and feel like they are not truly deserving of their success.

Despite evidence to the contrary, individuals with imposter syndrome feel like they are frauds or imposters, constantly worried that they will be exposed as such. The term "imposter syndrome" was first used in the late 1970s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They developed the concept after conducting a study of high-achieving women in academia and realizing that many of them experienced intense feelings of self-doubt and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

The symptoms of imposter syndrome can manifest in many different ways. People with imposter syndrome may feel like they are not intelligent enough or capable enough to do their job or accomplish their goals. They may worry that they are not as qualified as their peers, and that they are only successful because of luck or timing. They may also experience anxiety, fear, and a lack of confidence, all of which can be damaging and can prevent them from pursuing their goals.

Who is more likely to experience imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a common experience that can affect anyone, regardless of their achievements. However, there have been several studies that have examined the link between imposter syndrome and being a part of a minority group.

Research has shown that individuals from marginalized groups, such as racial or ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals, may be more likely to experience imposter syndrome. This is likely due to a combination of factors, including societal messages that suggest they are not as capable or deserving as others, experiences of discrimination or prejudice, and a lack of representation and role models.


A 2016 study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that African American graduate students were more likely to experience imposter syndrome than their White counterparts. This was attributed to feelings of isolation and discrimination, as well as a sense of pressure to succeed as a representative of their community. Another study published in the Journal of Career Development in 2017 found that imposter syndrome was more prevalent among women than men, and that this gender difference was partially explained by gender discrimination in the workplace. Women who experienced gender discrimination were more likely to feel like imposters, regardless of their actual competence or achievement.


LGBTQ+ individuals may also be more likely to experience imposter syndrome, particularly in fields where they are underrepresented or face discrimination. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Homosexuality found that gay and bisexual men were more likely to experience imposter syndrome than heterosexual men, and that this was partially explained by experiences of discrimination and stigma.

These studies suggest that imposter syndrome is more common among individuals from marginalized groups. However, it is important to note that imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of their background or identity. Additionally, not all individuals from marginalized groups will experience imposter syndrome, and those who do may experience it for a variety of reasons.

How an inclusive culture can improve imposter syndrome

By creating inclusive company cultures, we can improve the environments that promote imposter syndrome.


Creating an inclusive environment can help to reduce feelings of imposter syndrome and promote a sense of belonging among individuals. When people feel that they are accepted and valued for who they are, regardless of their background or identity, they will feel more confident in their abilities and less likely to experience imposter syndrome.


The Journal of Vocational Behavior published some studies on this topic. A 2020 study found that inclusive organizational climates were associated with lower levels of imposter syndrome among early-career professionals, particularly for women and racial or ethnic minorities.

A later study examined the role of organizational culture in imposter syndrome among early-career professionals in 2021. Researchers found that a culture that emphasized learning and growth, rather than competition and performance, was associated with lower levels of imposter syndrome.

In short, creating an inclusive environment can help to promote a sense of belonging and reduce the likelihood of experiencing imposter syndrome.

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  2. Hennessey, B. A., & Gilbert, B. A. (2011). First-generation college students: Additional support, challenges, and opportunities. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 13(2), 133–156.

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  6. Siu, W., Chen, X., & Cheng, C. (2018). Exploring the impostor phenomenon and minority stress among gay and bisexual men. Journal of Homosexuality, 65(3), 305–320.

  7. McElwee, R. O., Yurak, T. J., Green, K. E., & Liem, J. H. (2020). Impostor phenomenon and career development: Examining the impact of career mentoring, career decision self-efficacy, and perceived career barriers. Journal of Career Development, 47(4), 395-409.

  8. Lao, J., Tao, F., & Zhang, M. (2021). The role of perceived social support and career adaptability in the relationship between impostor phenomenon and career indecision among Chinese college students. Journal of College Student Development, 62(1), 111-127.

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