The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday November 28th

Column: Imposter syndrome for women in higher education and the workplace

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You've probably heard the term imposter syndrome many times, especially since coming to college. It's an all too common experience for women and people of color in academic and professional settings, but shouldn’t be accepted as the norm.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern characterized by feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, which causes people to doubt their successes and experience unsettling fears of being exposed as an impostor.

I first learned about imposter syndrome from my mom, who described her feelings of self-doubt in a male-dominated field as a bank executive. It always astonished me that a woman as intelligent and strong as my mother could experience these feelings of inadequacy. She felt as though she would be discovered as a fraud at any moment, despite her success and experience.

Imposter syndrome makes it extremely difficult to allow yourself to feel a sense of achievement, and cause your confidence and self-esteem to take a severe hit. A lack of confidence can be extremely difficult for students, especially when we’ve worked so hard to get to where we are.

It wasn’t until I decided I wanted to go to law school that I started to understand the imposter syndrome that my mother told me about. I found myself comparing my skills and intellect to male law school applicants.

To help break out of this cycle, I've begun following female law students and attorneys via TikTok and Instagram to understand their experiences and learn from women whose path I will soon follow.

In their videos and posts, they describe the normal long hours studying, difficult exams, as well as sexism in the classroom and workplace. These toxic behaviors can hinder women from believing that they are deserving of their seat at the table — that any moment, they will be deemed undeserving.

But they also mention other women who have led them and inspired them to feel confident in their abilities. Role models can play a huge role in helping to overcome imposter syndrome, and having female role models can help them feels as though they belong in their work and academic settings. 

In addition, forming strong relationships with colleagues and leaders through honest communication can help promote an environment that welcomes respect and diminishes feelings of self-doubt. 

My mom has always been one of the strongest leaders I know. Growing up and being able to learn from her and her career has helped me understand the importance of women in academic spaces and the professional sphere. Inspiring women helped my mom gain the confidence to have faith in her leadership skills and keen eye for business, which is the most important aspect of conquering imposter syndrome. 

I am inspired to lead and learn just as my mom has, and to inspire more women to see themselves in success. I have been lucky to have professors and professionals who are role models for me and for others, but there is still much more work to be done to make sure women continue to feel represented.

Imposter syndrome is a term and feeling many women have come to know, but it doesn’t have to stay, because women deserve a seat at the table and deserve to feel that they have earned it. 

Women like my mom, like me and like you. 


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