Impostor syndrome among men and women

While early research focused on the prevalence of Impostor syndrome among women, it has since been recognized to affect both men and women. As to whether women are more susceptible to impostor syndrome than men, research has been mixed.

In The impostor phenomenon: recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment 1 the authors state:

The impostor phenomenon was originally thought to be particularly pervasive among females (Clance & Imes, 1978). Surveys of several populations, however, have found no differences between the sexes in the degree to which they experience impostor feelings.

Based on their clinical observations, Clance & Imes (1978) postulated that the experience would be more prevalent among females because of societal stereotyping of women as less capable than men, an attitude that many of their clients seemed to internalize. Attribution theory holds that attribution is a function of expectation. When a successful outcome is unexpected, that outcome is likely to be attributed to temporary, external causes, such as luck or effort (Deaux, 1976). Thus, if females are less likely to expect success, they might well attribute it to factors other than ability.

Studies of college students (Harvey, 1981; Bussotti, 1990; Langford, 1990), college professors (Topping, 1983), and successful professionals (Dingman, 1987) have all failed, however, to reveal any sex differences in impostor feelings, suggesting that males in these populations are just as likely as females to have low expectations of success and to make attributions to non-ability related factors.

A study in 2006 2 looked at gender differences when exploring a possible relationship between the feeling of being an impostor and the achievement of goals. The researchers concluded that the women who participated in this study expressed greater impostor fears than men and were also higher on ability-avoid goals.

Some research even suggests men are more negatively affected than women. A 2018 study 3 concluded that impostor syndrome may hit men harder than women, triggering more anxiety and worse performance.

Situational and environmental factors are sure to play a role as well though. The 2020 BBC article Why imposter syndrome hits women and women of colour harder says:

The lack of role models for marginalised communities has a major impact on making people feel like they do – or don’t – belong in these corporate environments. Without this representation, there’s no “signal of the possibility of advancement… [or] how they managed the realities of stereotype, stigma and oppression in order to advance”, says Thema Bryant-Davis, a black psychologist and professor of psychology at Pepperdine University in California.

“We’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field,” adds Emily Hu, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. “This is especially true for black and indigenous people, for whom overall representation across almost all white-collar fields is alarmingly low.”