Women in Security: Unmasking the Imposter


Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon affecting many in the workplace today. In fact, it has relentlessly shadows my every step, both within and beyond the confines of my workplace. But what many people may not know is the journey that led me here — a journey marked by unexpected detours and challenges.

At a young age, and for reasons out of my control, I found myself navigating through six different high schools within three years, ultimately dropping out when my accumulated credits fell short of reaching my senior year. Instead, I ventured into the world of full-time work, and fate led me to a foster home where I found a family that believed in me and supported my pursuit of a GED. With this, I have defied the odds and achieved remarkable success in my career.

It is from this unique vantage point that I dive into the depths of Imposter Syndrome, eager to shed light on its profound impact, and explore strategies for conquering its grip. Imposter Syndrome is not a new concept. It refers to a psychological phenomenon where individuals doubt their accomplishments, skills or abilities, and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud or “imposter.” Regardless of evidence of their competence and achievements, those experiencing Imposter Syndrome contribute their success to luck, external factors or believe that they have deceived others into thinking they are more capable than they are.

Deanna VanHout is the partner program manager at Paladin Technologies Inc. An owner of the PSA Network.

Deanna Van Hout


In addition to exploring the concept of Imposter Syndrome and its very existence, let’s also consider its impact and question whether it is a genuine phenomenon or a construct of our perceptions. Get ready to self-reflect as we unravel the complexities of Imposter Syndrome and examine its validity.

The first thing I want to point out is that this was never supposed to be called Imposter Syndrome in the first place. The original paper on the subject, written in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, labeled this as a phenomenon. Our trusty friend Webster defines a syndrome as “a recognizable complex of symptoms and physical findings which indicate a specific condition for which a direct cause is not necessarily understood,” whereas a phenomenon is defined as “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question.” Who knows why this mutated, much against the feelings of Imes, but my guess is that the word phenomenon didn’t have the negative splash that the word syndrome has.

Regardless, while the imposter phenomenon affects many people, women seem to be particularly impacted. They are subjected to more stereotypes in the workplace, underrepresented in leadership roles and face significant work-life balance struggles, all of which amplify this issue.

For the sake of clarity, lets break down the traits that are commonly associated with this phenomenon:

  • Self-attribution: Attributing success to luck or external factors
  • Fear of exposure: Constant worry about being discovered as a fraud
  • Downplaying achievements: Minimizing accomplishments and failing to recognize their significance
  • Perfectionism: Setting high standards and fearing mistakes or falling short
  • Overpreparing: Compensating for perceived inadequacies through excessive effort
  • Comparison and self-doubt: Unfavorably comparing oneself to others and underestimating abilities
  • Anxiety and stress: Experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the fear of being exposed
  • Difficulty accepting praise: Struggling to accept compliments or downplaying positive feedback

‘This leads us to the question: What’s next? Perhaps it’s time for us to shift our focus from merely seeking a “seat at the table” to critically examining the table itself.’

In an interview, comedian Viv Groskop told a story about how she once stood on a stage and said, “Who here has never experienced Imposter Syndrome?” Only one (very brave) woman raised her hand. But, at the end of the talk, this outlier came up to apologize — worried that it was somehow arrogant not to have Imposter Syndrome.

A study done in 2023 by KPMG uncovered the following statistics:

  • 75 percent of executive women report having personally experienced Imposter Syndrome at certain points in their career.
  • 85 percent believe Imposter Syndrome is commonly experienced by women in corporate America.
  • 74 percent of executive women believe that their male counterparts do not experience feelings of self-doubt as much as female leaders do.
  • 81 percent believe they put more pressure on themselves not to fail than men do.

To be honest, I found those numbers to be exceptionally low. However, I am now asking… If everyone has it, does it exist at all or are we just owning the fact that most of us are excessively filled with self-doubt?

This leads us to the question: What’s next? Perhaps it’s time for us to shift our focus from merely seeking a “seat at the table” to critically examining the table itself. A closer look at the historical context reveals that the narrative surrounding Imposter Syndrome has evolved over time. Prior to the ’90s, it was a less discussed topic, possibly because women were so frequently underestimated that they didn’t experience the feelings of being an imposter to the extent they are talked about today. Gen X and Millennials appear to be the generations most affected by this phenomenon. However, with Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) entering the professional world and migrating into leadership roles, there is hope for a massive shift.

While the pandemic increased uncertainties and mental health issues for some Gen Zers, technology has made this generation acutely aware of their power and purpose. This new group is armed with knowledge at their fingertips that in return provides them with a level of confidence previous generations haven’t had.

Today, Gen Z represents the largest generation in the world, or about 32 percent of the 7.7 billion people on earth, surpassing Millennials and Baby Boomers, according to a Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data.

It is my belief that this group is going to view Impostor Syndrome as a byproduct of capitalism, because feeling like an impostor ensures that we all strive for endless progress — Work harder, make more money, constantly try to be better than our former selves and the people around us.

Imposter Syndrome begs us to question its reality; but we must remember that it doesn’t define us. We can conquer its grip by challenging societal pressures and embracing our own unique journeys. Let’s redefine success on our terms and create an inclusive environment where authenticity thrives. Together, we can unmask the imposter within and unleash our true potential.

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