Whether on the golf course, in the office, or as you pursue your hobbies, the self-doubt that comes with Imposter Syndrome knows no boundaries. Women especially are susceptible to experiencing Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives.

Imposter Syndrome is a persistent inability to believe one’s success is deserved or achieved by working hard and possessing distinct skills and capabilities but by other means such as luck or being at the right place at the right time. It is often accompanied with feelings of self-doubt, fear of success or failure, or self-sabotage.

As a part of their efforts to grow the number of women in executive roles, KPMG has commissioned a research study called “Advancing the Future of Women in Business: A KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report”. In it, they reveal the details of Imposter Syndrome executive women experience and the advice these women have to ultimately conquer those anxieties and feel confident in their roles.

Over 750 past attendees of the 2015-2019 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summits participated in the survey. These women hold positions just below the C-suite from Fortune 1000 companies.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

According to the study, “Imposter Syndromes can stem from a variety of factors, including personal, familial and social experiences, stereotypes and labels, corporate culture and workforce dynamics.”

Basically, no one is immune. The study found that 75% of women who hold executive positions have felt Imposter Syndrome at some point in their careers. It isn’t something some people are born with and others aren’t. Rather, it is a learned behavior. And though overcoming the insecurities associated with Imposter Syndrome can be difficult, if a behavior can be learned, it can be unlearned.

But before we can learn how to beat Imposter Syndrome, we have to first understand the common causes.

75% of Executive Women Have Experienced Imposter Syndrome

Corporate Cultural Expectations

When a position has traditionally been held by people who do not look like you, the feeling of not fitting the stereotype can lead people toward second-guessing their own abilities.

The issue can also go the other way. Many women do know their worth to the company and feel confident they are fully qualified for the job. What they are not confident about is how others perceive their work performance due to not looking like the typical executive stereotype. This leads to women putting unnecessary pressure on themselves to work harder than their peers in order to be seen as equal.

54% of Executive Women Believe Others will Doubt Their Abilities

Breaking Gender Stereotypes

While Imposter Syndrome isn’t unique to women, 81% of those surveyed felt that they as women put more pressure on themselves to succeed than men.

One participant suggested that men tend not to experience Imposter Syndrome in the same way women do because of the assumptions of what a leader looks like based on the traditional gender norms many children grow up with. Men have seen other men in leadership roles their entire lives and have many options for people to look up to or seek advice from in their field. Women, however, are raised differently. Many women have few leadership role models, or in some circumstances, must be their own role model.

81% of Executive Women Believe They Feel More Pressure to Succeed Than Men

Big Changes

Imposter Syndrome often comes along when women start pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. It can happen while transitioning into a new role, taking on more responsibilities, or moving to a new company.

Sudden good changes made the surveyed women feel uncertain if they belonged in that position because they never anticipated reaching that level of success.

The good news, though, is that for 66% of women who experienced Imposter Syndrome caused by taking on new leadership roles, the worries did not hold them back. It actually could be seen as a motivator, a sign that they are growing in their careers.

57% of Executive Women Experience Doubt When Taking On New Leadership Roles

Not Knowing the Ropes

Environmental factors having the impact that they do, it is little wonder that one of the biggest causes of Imposter Syndrome can be attributed to being unfamiliar with the usual forays of the workplace.

Women who were the first in their families to pursue a career as an executive, women from different cultures, and others who have not had the same opportunities to learn what corporate culture was like can experience Imposter Syndrome not so much as an attack on their abilities but as a worry that they will not fit in with their peer group.

How Can Women Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

If you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome at work, there are some simple ways to build your confidence and affirm for yourself that you deserve the success you have earned.

Find a Mentor

Many women reported seeking out advice from a trusted mentor when they feel uncertain about their job. A mentor should be able to objectively show you where your strengths are and support you when you feel out of place.


Since a big cause of Imposter Syndrome comes from a feeling of being othered by your peers, seeking out opportunities to work in a team can ensure you–and everyone around you–that you are on the same page and share the same overall goals. By working in a team environment, where everyone has an equal chance to speak and lead in their own way, confidence can more easily return.

Include Yourself

When people can be their true, authentic selves, people are more comfortable wherever they are. If you are usually bold and decisive in your friend group but quiet and timid at work, consider carrying that confidence with you no matter where you are or who you are with.

Celebrate the Little Victories

When trying to “have it all”, many women can overlook rewarding themselves for small accomplishments. However, the survey participants ranked feeling valued highly among ways to combat Imposter Syndrome, and celebrating the little victories along the way can boost your confidence and can help push away the idea that your success was luck instead of the result of your hard work.

Allow Yourself Time to Relax

Many women in high-powered executive positions have gotten there by working very hard their whole lives. And when Imposter Syndrome kicks in, 57% claim to have been workaholics. But taking time to step away from work and to relax can give you time to step back and take stock of all that you have accomplished and allow you to return to work refreshed and confident.

How to Beat Imposter Syndrome?

Advancing the Future of Women in Business: The 2020 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report can be read in its entirety on the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit website.

What are your experiences with Imposter Syndrome? How do you build confidence in yourself off and on the course? Let us know in the comments below.