Imposter Syndrome: Is it Internal or Systemic?

Imposter Syndrome

If you’ve ever stepped into an executive role, it’s likely that you’ve experienced imposter syndrome at some point. Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern where an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

While imposter syndrome is often thought of as an individual problem, it’s essential to explore the systemic roots of this issue. Women often experience feelings of inadequacy more frequently and more intensely than men – and this is exacerbated for women of color.

This self-doubt and negative self-talk can hold you back from achieving your full potential. But is it all in your head, or is it perpetuated by external factors? The answer is likely a combination of both.

Internal Imposter Syndrome

Internal imposter syndrome can impact anyone, regardless of their background or profession. Some of the common signs of internal imposter syndrome include:

  • Feeling like a fraud, even when you have achieved significant accomplishments
  • Believing that your success is due to luck or timing, rather than your skills and abilities
  • Comparing yourself to others and feeling inadequate
  • Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and feeling disappointed when you don’t meet them

To overcome these feelings, it’s important to acknowledge and challenge your negative self-talk. Try to focus on your achievements, and remind yourself of the hard work and effort you put into your success. Surround yourself with supportive colleagues and mentors who can provide you with positive feedback and perspective.

Systemic Imposter Syndrome

Systemic imposter syndrome is often experienced by women of color executives who work in predominantly white, male-dominated industries. They may face implicit biases and microaggressions that perpetuate feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Some of the common signs of systemic imposter syndrome include:

  • Feeling like you don’t belong or are not accepted in your workplace
  • Being overlooked for opportunities or promotions despite your qualifications
  • Feeling like you have to work harder to prove yourself than your white colleagues
  • Experiencing microaggressions and implicit biases that undermine your confidence and abilities

To overcome these factors, it’s essential to address the underlying biases and systemic barriers that may be holding you back. Seek out allies and advocates who can support you in your career and help you navigate these challenges. Speak up about the biases and microaggressions you face and advocate for change in your workplace.


Whether feelings of self-doubt are stemming from within or from external factors, it’s important to challenge the negative self-talk before you spiral on feelings of self-doubt. Take a moment to recognize your accomplishments and remind yourself that you deserve a seat at the table.

Struggling with imposter syndrome as a woman of color?

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