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75% of women in the UK workplace fear being exposed as career frauds

Workers in the City of London. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Archive/PA Images

Millions of UK employees are suffering from “impostor syndrome,” and women and LGBTQ+ workers are being hit the hardest, new research shows.

A survey of over 2,300 workers by job site Totaljobs has revealed a whopping seven in 10 – 23 million people – worry about being exposed as frauds who aren’t “good enough” for their jobs, despite any evidence to the contrary.

And women, in particular, may experience the “double whammy” of being both disadvantaged in the workplace and held back by their own involuntary low sense of self-worth.

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The survey found women are particularly likely to struggle with impostor syndrome, with a whopping three quarters reporting symptoms – 10% more than their male counterparts.

However, it’s not just women. People who perceive themselves to part of any minority within the workplace, and those who find themselves under-represented at senior levels, are more susceptible to impostor feelings, the survey found.

Queer workers are are more likely to question their abilities in the workplace. This is especially true for bisexual workers, 78% of whom reported struggling with those feelings – 9% higher than their straight colleagues.

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And the fear of being discovered as a fraud divides Brits across generations, too.

Those belonging to the baby boomer generation – aged 55 to 75 – are in the fortunate position of being 11% less likely than millennials – aged 22 to 37 – to question their professional suitability, the survey found.

Impostor syndrome also flourishes as Brits begin to scale the career ladder. As new managers set out to prove themselves, they also experience greater scrutiny. More than three quarters (77%) of those surveyed in a junior management role said they have felt like impostors.

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Sadly, these symptoms don’t disappear as employees continue to gain professional experience – 68% of senior managers admitted to experiencing symptoms of impostor syndrome.

Stress, burnout, anxiety and depression are just a few of the ways impostor syndrome can disrupt our professional lives, according to psychologists.

More deceptive than self-sabotage, people who believe themselves to be “impostors” don’t see themselves as deserving or capable of success in the first place.

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Coupled with an ongoing fear of being found out, these individuals often tend to set exaggerated expectations for themselves, that they can only fail to meet.

Over six in 10 (63%) of respondents with impostor syndrome symptoms said they principally measure success by their own unrealistic set of standards. When inevitable setbacks occur, it reinforces their perceived impostor status.

Impostor syndrome can be seriously damaging to careers – blocking potential promotions, pay rises – with seven in 10 sufferers admitting they have let colleagues take credit for their work.

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Kate Atkin, researcher and impostor syndrome expert at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “I encourage those who think they might be experiencing impostor phenomenon to talk about it and I think they will soon realise that they are far from being on their own.

“By endlessly comparing ourselves to the achievements of others we can often forget to reflect on our own success.

“Recognise your professional skills. Don’t just put them down to luck.’’