Tackling Imposter Syndrome: A Discussion with Caitlin Duggan

Caitlin Duggan led a discussion about imposter syndrome in the workplace. BIRDIEMAGAZINE/COURTESY

By Angelina Persaud, News Editor

Caitilin Duggan is breaking the stigma around imposter syndrome for women in the workplace while offering solutions to create a healthier mindset during Friday’s discussion in Kelly. 

The event was coordinated by several women empowerment-focused groups on campus including the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Her Campus at Manhattan, Women in Business (WiB) and The Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center (LWGRC). 

Duggan, a senior talent acquisition specialist at IBM, explained the core concepts surrounding imposter syndrome and how the majority of people who experience it are women. She defines it as, “The persistent inability to believe one’s success is deserved or legitimately theirs.” 

Prior to the presentation, she told The Quadrangle why she felt it was necessary to have an open discussion about imposter syndrome. She spoke about her first job as an executive headhunter for an architecture firm where she realized how pervasive imposter syndrome can be, especially for women in the workplace.  

“I didn’t know a thing about architecture and I spent all day talking to people who had worked their entire career in architecture,” Duggan said. “That overwhelming feeling of not being good enough or not knowing enough to be in those rooms is something…women face multiple times throughout their career and personal lives. I feel like the experiences I have had over the course of my career and my background have made me really passionate about talking about this topic.” 

She also highlighted the gender gap between women and men who face imposter syndrome, noting that working mothers in particular are prone to experience the stigma. 

“Working moms have a higher focus on work and personal life due to feelings of guilt,” Duggan said. “There are these societal expectations of what it’s supposed to look like to be a mom, and if you’re not living up to those expectations, you’re an impostor.” 

However, she acknowledges that both men and women can experience the internal and external pressures that induce feelings of imposter syndrome.

“As women, society expects you to be nice at work and have everyone on your team like you. But when men are not liked at work, they are deserving of respect,” Duggan said. “It’s important to recognize that men can experience imposter syndrome as well, but I do think that we, as women, feel it more acutely…because of how society treats men and women.” 

Duggan explained the correlation between racial microaggression in the workplace and how it can culminate into feelings of being an imposter. 

“I don’t think I’ve known a single woman of color at work that I haven’t witnessed something we said to them that came in the form of a microaggressive statement,” Duggan said. “And unfortunately, most of them are in situations where they don’t get to react the way that they deserve to or where their reaction has so much weight on their future success and their livelihood. It gets even harder for women of color, who don’t even have women of color mentors to see themselves in the positions of leadership and companies.” 

Part of the presentation highlighted the importance of imposter syndrome and how it takes a toll on a person’s performance in the workplace, their mental health and relationships. Duggan focused on the idea of, “burnout and inability to balance personal relationships” as two major outcomes of the syndrome.  

Duggan gave solutions for people who experience imposter syndrome and the ways they can create a healthier lifestyle around it. 

“Take that time to work on yourself and work on how you respond to situations and processes that you’ve been through are going to help you grow and develop as a person,” Duggan said. “In general, learning to frame challenges and failures that we face as a learning opportunity I think helps to alleviate a lot of anxiety and helps us to stop taking everything so seriously.” 

Another significant solution she posed was creating a “feedback-rich environment” where people can learn from each other and find ways to accept criticism without inducing imposter feelings. 

“Nobody likes being told ‘you did this wrong’,”  Duggan said. “But then you’re gonna feel really relieved because in the moment when you made a mistake, they told you. No matter what level of experience you’re at, you have the ability and the knowledge and experience to help somebody else.” 

Kineret Ortega, a sophomore computer engineering major, spoke about the key takeaways she learned from the presentation. 

“I like that she gave us personal experiences. She was taking us through experiences for life where we know how to handle ourselves in the future in terms of entering the career field,” Ortega said. 

Julia Antonicelli, a senior civil engineering major and board member of SWE, also highlighted some key aspects of the presentation that resonated with her. 

“During my time in school, I’ve been in many male dominated environments, classes and internships,” Antonicelli said. “I’ve been like the only woman on a construction site. I think when she explains adjusting your mindset, I think it’s really helpful to understand that feedback is always important to have a good mindset for.” 

Duggan’s presentation laid out the issues of imposter syndrome while interlacing it with her own personal experiences. She gives hope to victims of the syndrome and provides steps to improve one’s lifestyle and cope. 

“I think that it’s a two fold approach of both checking in with yourself and knowing mentally where you’re at and understanding impostor syndrome,” Duggan said. “It’s about taking the active steps like seeking out feedback to help to close the loop when it happens.”