Is Imposter Syndrome Even Real for Women of Cyber? 

Article written by Theo Graymccarthy, JD

Why is it everywhere I turn I keep on hearing about Imposter Syndrome? I am pretty much over it. However, it seems that it is a “thing” that is most definitely here to stay for 2021. But being a woman in cybersecurity I think that I have beat the odds and can hold my own. I would never, ever, doubt I deserve to have all of the success, education and solid employment that I am benefiting from. Or is it because of all of those things, I am the biggest Imposter Syndrome victim of them all?

First of all, it helps to actually define this new and trendy term. Actually, it was first coined in 1978! Over 43 years ago. And it is based on the following scientific study by article "The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes. The Wikipedia goes on to further explain the essence of the syndrome as being:

“defined impostor phenomenon as an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness (fraud). The researchers investigated the prevalence of this internal experience by interviewing …high-achieving women. All of the participants had been formally recognized for their professional excellence by colleagues, and had displayed academic achievement through degrees earned and standardized testing scores. Despite the consistent evidence of external validation, these women lacked the internal acknowledgement of their accomplishments. The participants explained how their success was a result of luck, and others simply overestimating their intelligence and abilities.”

I am speechless… I literally could have written this about myself, word for word. I am certain many women and men reading this would as well. It only took me 30+ years to actually learn the term for what I dealt with every day leading up to my career as cyber as I transitioned from technology law. Not all of the incredible education nor envy worthy job titles could silence the doubt in my mind. Do I really belong here? And how long before people figure out, I don’t deserve this?

It makes me wonder if the lockdown of Covid-19 has forced us to look inward and evaluate ourselves in ways we never would have before. Thus, triggering the resurgence of the very real concept of Imposter Syndrome.

Secondly, how do we know that we have this so called “Imposter Syndrome”? There is no easy answer or singular point in time when we started struggling with it. For me it was many moments and even more “aha!” moments that come to mind. Many of them were in my winding path to cyber (link to article on my journey at bottom of post). As you will find whenever you ask how someone got into cyber their responses are intrinsically unique and colorful. No two are the same. And you will find that in most women in the field. Lack of commonality could lead to concern that we are not doing the right things to advance our careers. As we have no frame of reference to support our success and path to achieve it.

Being different in any area will automatically make you an outsider. Even though women make up 50% of the workforce the stats for cyber are reflective of our ability to attain the highest levels of this highly compensated field. We only have access to 24%+\- of the cyber jobs per statistics reported by ICS2(1). It is hard to feel that you belong when your representation is so low. An example of this is in the distant, pre-Covid-19, past when we have attended cyber conferences, we witnessed such things as panels on diversity, with all men. It is only now firms are looking to include women in the conversations and featuring them as speakers. Our voices are being heard.

In a field where we are so outnumbered it sometimes becomes a defense mechanism just to co-exist with our male counterparts. We don’t want to be better. We just want to belong.

Ultimately, is there a cure for Imposter Syndrome? Like Covid-19 everyone wants a miracle cure. One jab and we can now be maskless, go on cruises and enjoy crowded places! The answer is, we each have our own search for our true identity. And in a field like cyber we challenge ourselves on a daily basis to grow. We should try to:
Continue to study so we can stay competitive (certifications, CIPP, CISSP, etc.)
Stay physically active and continue to take pride in our physical health
Prioritize YOUR mental wellness
Motivate and mentor the next generation cyber professionals to be positive and ethical

We must build our networks and support others on International Women’s Day. And every day in between. There is no miracle. There is no magic bullet. It will take a lifetime.

At the end of the day, we will always find unreasonable ways to doubt ourselves. That sneaky troll called “Imposter Syndrome” will jump out of the bushes and put us back to square one. But now that we are aware of its existence, we can stare it down, and do what we do best. Save the world from cyber bad guys (notice bad people are guys ;). If that is the imposter that I am, then I am proud of it. Never doubt your capacity for greatness. Let others do that. Focus on being your absolute best. You will win the battle every time.


Join me and listen to my own journey discussing Imposter Syndrome on this fun filled podcast, read up on my journey from law to cyber and on every Friday hop on LinkedIn for #BobMarleyFriday. We all need a great end to every week :)

1. Podcast:
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