The Truth About Imposter Syndrome Among Tech Workers

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As part of the ongoing narrative about gender equality in the workplace, imposter syndrome is often raised as a cause—and an effect—of discrepancies in wages and promotions between male and female employees. But new data from Hired suggests that, while imposter syndrome is certainly a common experience amongst female tech workers, many men also suffer from similar feelings when in the workplace.

Imposter syndrome was first described in 1978 as the ‘imposter phenomenon’, and was originally thought to be a female-specific experience. Women with imposter syndrome, “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments… [believe] that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise”. It has since become a popular topic amongst those in business and tech circles, with a number of popular Ted Talks, workshops, and other training programs focused on helping women to overcome feelings of self-doubt. As cultural narratives have evolved, the definition of imposter syndrome has also expanded to include anyone in the workplace who experiences these feelings.

Imposter syndrome doesn’t gender discriminate…

Despite the fact that the syndrome was originally described for women, a majority of men working in tech today also experience imposter syndrome. According to our survey of tech workers, only 23% of men report never experiencing imposter syndrome. Even fewer women (16%) are spared.

A full 50% of females surveyed indicated that imposter syndrome is a frequent experience, compared with 39% of men. A further 34% of women report experiencing it sometimes, versus 38% of men.

Given the history, it’s not all that surprising to find that imposter syndrome is extremely prevalent amongst women working in tech—but it’s a different story for men. While the narrative generally paints men as calm and confident in the workplace, this data suggests otherwise—or at least that, while men may appear to be confident, they doubt themselves more often than not.

…and doesn’t explain pay inequality

While it is interesting to find that many male tech workers experience imposter syndrome, the effects of this do not seem to translate into an impact on the salaries they expect—and command.

According to our data, women ask for a lower salary (an average of 6% less) than men 66% of the time—for the same role at the same company. This is often referred to as the ‘expectation gap’, and can result is women being paid less than they’re worth, even if the company was prepared to offer more

This is also reflected in the wage gap, with the average woman in tech being offered 4% less than men for the same role at the same company. While 4% may seem like a small number, this is a common occurrence, with more than half of women reporting having discovered they were paid less than a colleague of another gender in the same role, as opposed to just 19% of men reporting the same experience.

And it’s not for lack of trying. When surveyed, women who had found out that a peer of another gender in the same role was being paid more took no action only 29% of the time—compared to 55% of men. Nearly a third of women (27%) approached their managers to have a discussion, as opposed to 19% of men

Expectation and wage gaps are multifaceted problems

While it’s clear that the tech industry has much work to do to remedy pay inequalities—and particularly those associated with gender—our data suggests that there is no one cultural, psychological, or policy-based answer to these problems. While imposter syndrome may play a role in the salaries tech workers ask for and are offered, its prevalence amongst both genders highlights the importance of taking a holistic view of the issues around the expectation and wage gaps—and understanding that the various drivers of these discrepancies may affect male and female workers in different ways.

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