Hana showed up for her first day of work at a high-growth startup filled with excitement and optimism. But at the end of the day as she walked back out to her car, the sun beginning to dip down below the horizon, she couldn't shake feelings of self-doubt and feeling like a fraud. "Why did they even hire me?" she wondered aloud to herself.  "They must have made a mistake."

She absolutely deserved to be there and there was certainly no mistake made by HR in extending her an offer after a comprehensive interview process. But still, Hana's feelings were all too real. And all too common.  

Hana was experiencing something called "imposter syndrome." 

In their HBR article, "Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome," authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey define the phenomenon as "doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud."   

Psychologist Pauline Rose Clance (one of the originators of the term "imposter phenomenon'' in the 1970's) and Professor Gail Matthews found in their research that 70% of people have felt imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. Household names like former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and actress Natalie Portman have all admitted to feeling imposter syndrome at points in their career. So it can affect anyone and everyone - although data show its prevalence is especially affected by race, class, and gender, among other identities.

So, if many of us will experience it, why do we continue to think of imposter syndrome as an individual's problem?  

What if, instead, we saw it for what it really is: a systemic issue where teams and organizations haven't done enough to make sure talented and qualified people know that they are valued and belong?

We need to stop thinking this is Hana's fault for feeling imposter syndrome. The problem lies with her team and employer who haven't done enough to proactively and systemically ensure that she - and likely 70% of her colleagues! - do not feel imposter syndrome in the first place.

Imposter syndrome isn't an individual's problem, it's an organization's problem. So how can you become a leader who actively addresses and changes your organization to combat imposter syndrome among your teammates?  

Consistently Remind Folks That They Belong

As Hana's example shows, a simple job offer is not enough to ensure feelings of belonging on your team. As a leader, you should constantly remind people of the unique skills, abilities, and perspectives they bring to the team. When in doubt, share this feedback more often than you otherwise would to make it clear: you hired your team for a reason and you believe in them and their ability to positively shape the future of your organization. You might think these thoughts in your head, but make sure you actively communicate them, and do so in myriad ways from 1-1 conversations to praising a teammate in front of their peers. What may feel like overcommunicating here most likely is not, especially if someone is beginning to doubt themselves.  

Create psychological safety 

Make it safe for your individuals on your team to take risks and be their full selves at work.  Harvard Business School management scholar Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as "a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking." You, as a leader, can proactively create this culture by encouraging people to leverage their full identities and perspectives and to show that people are rewarded - not punished - for suggesting new ideas and suggestions even when many of them will inevitably not work out.

Walk the Talk on DEI Efforts

We can't fully understand imposter syndrome without looking at it through lenses of gender, race, and class, among other identities. For instance, among the students I teach, I find that women, people of color, and first-gen college students are more likely to experience imposter syndrome than others - and even more so when these identities intersect. This is why it's so crucial to reframe how we see imposter syndrome not as an individual's problem, but rather a systemic one. Ensure representation on your team so that any single individual doesn't feel like they are forced to represent an entire group of people.  Actively combat bias and discrimination throughout your team. Make a point of elevating the perspectives of those from traditionally marginalized identities, and create an environment where equity and inclusion is embedded throughout business practices.  

It's time we stop thinking about imposter syndrome as an individual's problem to fix, and instead see it as the systemic issue it is. Hana deserves it - and so do all of us.