Impostorization in the Ivory Tower: Less Discussed but More Vexing than Impostor Syndrome

Document Type


Publication Date



Purpose: Given the lack of research on the lived experiences of racially minoritized women in academia, this paper provides primary accounts of their experience with impostorization. Impostorization refers to the policies, practices and seemingly innocuous interactions that make or intend to make individuals (i.e. women of color) question their intelligence, competence and sense of belonging.

Design/methodology/approach: To explore experiences with impostorization and identify effective coping strategies to counter the debilitating effects of impostorization, 17 semi-structured interviews were conducted with women of color PhD students and faculty at universities throughout the USA and across disciplines.

Findings: While impostor syndrome, which refers to feelings of inadequacy that individuals experience and a fear that they will be discovered as fraud, has garnered much attention, the present accounts suggest that the more vexing issue in academia is impostorization, not impostor syndrome. Forms of impostorization include microaggressions, grateful guest syndrome, invisibility and inclusion taxation.

Originality/value: The interviews reveal the implicit and explicit ways in which academia impostorizes racially minoritized women scholars and the coping strategies that they use to navigate and survive within academia. The accounts demonstrate the pernicious effects of labeling feelings of inadequacy and unbelonging as impostor syndrome rather than recognizing that the problem is impostorization. This is a call to change the narrative and go from a fix-the-individual to a fix-the-institution approach.