Is Impostor Syndrome a social phenomenon?

In You don’t have to fit into society’s one-size-fits-all system I wrote about how not fitting societal molds and systems should be perceived as data about those molds and systems, rather than merely as failure on the part of the individual.

The same is true for the Impostor phenomenon, which is often perceived as a dysfunction within the individual. In this article I share research findings that add to a new perspective on the Impostor Phenomenon.

Contextual Roots of Impostor Phenomenon

Even though, in popular media as well as academia, this phenomenon is often depicted as a dysfunctional “syndrome” that resides within certain individuals, more recent research points attention towards the contextual roots of the Impostor phenomenon.

Multiple studies have found that the impostor phenomenon is often linked to women and members of ethnic minority groups (those whose gender, ethnic, or racial identity that differ from the majority).

For example, women who are less likely to occupy particular roles within an organization (for example, women are underrepresented in IT) or at particular levels of organizational hierarchies (for example, leadership roles are still dominantly filled by men). Not fitting the norm in a particular context, can result in women and ethnic minority group members questioning their “place” within these certain contexts and feel like ‘impostors’.

Broaden the narrative

These findings add to debunking one of the many lies we have come to believe about the impostor phenomenon: that it’s something we just need to “manage” and that the onus is on us as individuals to do that. It is pointing us to a new perspective where we look at the Impostor phenomenon as a psychological response to a dysfunctional context. Which leaves us with a more broadened narrative where we talk about a complexity and multi-dimensional origins of the phenomenon to look at and address.

      Masterclass Impostor Phenomenon

      If you want to learn more about the impostor phenomenon, you are welcome to join the upcoming Masterclass on the Impostor phenomenon. If you are not Dutch-speaking, please email me at to inquire me about the English version of the Masterclass.


      Feenstra, Sanne ; Begeny, Christopher ; Ryan, Michelle ; Rink, Floor ; Stoker, Janka I. ; Jordan, Jennifer. / Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”. In: Frontiers in Psychology. 2020 ; Vol. 11.

      About Lian

      Hi, I’m Lian Angelino, a certified Career coach passionate about helping women move through their careers and daily lives with more ease and meaning.

      I combine my background in Work Psychology, Mental Health Sciences, and Leadership development to help you get clear about what makes you tick and gain clarity around difficult career choices.

      If you would like help in searching for your next role, finding clarity around a career challenge, or are looking for a structured way to approach your job search, learn more about my services here

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