“Imposter syndrome” or doubting your capabilities and feeling like you’re a person who isn’t. It’s a common diagnosis handed out to women; however, the reality that it’s a diagnosis in the first place is a problem.
The concept, which was first introduced in the late 1970s, was able to eliminate the negative effects of racism in general as well as xenophobia, classism and other biases, was the form of common anxiety, second-guessing and even mild anxiety in the workplace, particularly for women.
Imposter Syndrome Meaning
The solution to overcome the imposter syndrome isn’t to correct individuals but rather to create a workplace that encourages different leadership ways and where the diversification of ethnic, racial and gender identities are accepted as equally professional as the current system.
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Talisa Lavarry was tired. She was the leader of her corporate event management company to organize an extremely high-profile, high-security event all night and on weekends for months. Barack Obama was the keynote guest speaker.
Larry was able to manage the complex logistics but not office politics. An excellent opportunity to demonstrate her abilities had turned out to be the most unimaginable nightmare.
Larry’s colleagues questioned and criticized the woman, calling her competence to the test. Their bullying, explicit and subtle, influenced every decision she took.
Larry was unsure if her race could have some connection to her treatment. Ultimately, she was the only Black female member of her team. Despite being constantly praised by her client, she began questioning whether she was suited for the position.
The planning team became so violent that she was demoted from lead to co-lead, and finally, her colleagues did not acknowledge her.
Each time she took a swipe, her role in the work she was doing doubled off her confidence. She suffered from deep anxiety, self-hatred and the sense that she was untruthful.
What started as normal nervousness? Do I fit into the crowd? Do my coworkers appreciate me?
Do I have the ability to do a good job? It was work-related stress that led her to contemplate suicide.
Today, Larry can look back, having published a book about her experiences, “Confessions From Your Token Black Friend,” which reflects on the imposter syndrome that she was subjected to in that period and realizes that it wasn’t a lack of confidence in herself that kept her back.
It was the constant battle with discrimination and racism that was systemic.
Investigating Imposter Syndrome as We Know It
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Imposter syndrome can be described as doubting your capabilities and feeling like you’re a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments many questions whether they’re deserving of accolades.
Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes came up with the idea that was initially referred to as the “imposter phenomenon” in their study in 1978 that focused on highly-achieving women.
They believed that “despite impressive academic and professional achievements, women who suffer from the imposter condition persist in believing they’re not smart and have misled anyone who believes otherwise.”
Their research has led to decades of thought-leadership initiatives, programs and programs to combat imposter syndrome among women.
Famous women, including Hollywood stars like Charlize Theron and Viola Davis, business leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, and even the former first lady Michelle Obama and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, have acknowledged having experienced the condition.
A Google search results in over 5 million search results. It provides solutions that range from attending conferences, studying books and reciting one’s achievements before a mirror.
The question that isn’t as well explored is what causes imposter syndrome in the first place and the role that workplaces play in encouraging and accelerating it among women.
We believe there is room to consider the possibility of imposter syndrome as women are likely to doubt their achievements.
The effect of racism in the system and xenophobia, classism and other prejudices was utterly absent when the notion that imposter syndrome existed was first developed.
Various groups were left out of the research, such as women of colour and those with different financial, gender, and professional backgrounds.
As we understand it now, imposter disorder blames individuals without considering the cultural and historical circumstances that drive how it manifests itself in women of colour and white women.
Imposter syndrome steers our focus towards addressing the issues faced by women in work rather than fixing the work environments where women are employed.
Feeling uncertain shouldn’t make you an imposter.
Imposter syndrome was a general feeling of discomfort or second-guessing and anxiety at work and made it a popular topic, especially for women.
As white males advance through life, their doubts tend to diminish as their accomplishments and abilities are praised in time.
They will discover role models similar to theirs, but rarely (if ever) do people question their abilities, contribution or the way they lead. Women have the opposite experience.
Rarely do we get invited to attend a women’s professional development event where a session on “overcoming the imposter syndrome” isn’t included.
Imposter syndrome is a hefty burden to carry. “Imposter” is a hint of criminal fraud to the experience of feeling unsure or nervous about joining a team or taking on a new task.
In addition, the medical aspect associated with “syndrome” recalls the “female hyperstyria” diagnoses of the 19th century. While the feeling of uncertainty is expected in professional settings, women who experience them are believed to suffer from imposter syndrome.
Although women can show determination, strength and grit in their daily fights, microaggressions, particularly assumptions and expectations engendered by stereotypes and discrimination, frequently make us feel weaker.
Imposter syndrome, as a concept, cannot grasp this dynamic and places the burden upon women to address the consequences. The workplace is still geared towards seeking specific solutions to problems caused by discrimination systems and abuse of power.
Exclusion and Bias exacerbate feelings of doubt.
For women of colour, self-doubt and a feeling that we’re not welcome in predominantly white workplaces are often more prominent.
It’s not because women of colour (a broad, vague classification) are born with a deficit or because the intersection of race and gender puts us in a vulnerable workplace.
Many of us around the globe are implicitly not and told we’re not welcome in male-dominated and white-dominated workplaces.
Most women of colour interviewed through Working Mother Media plan to quit their jobs over the coming two years, citing feelings of discontent or marginalization that align with what we’ve experienced.
The feeling of self-doubt exacerbated by the exclusion was the primary reason behind our move from corporate environments to entrepreneurial ventures.
“Who is considered a professional is an assessment method that is biased and biased,” said Tina Opie.
She is the associate professor of Babson College in an interview in the year 2000. Suppose employees with minority backgrounds attempt to live up to a standard that not similar to them have achieved (and that they’re usually not expected to attain).
In that case, the stress of achieving may become overwhelming. A once-engaged Latina woman suddenly stops speaking during meetings.
The Indian female who seemed to be considered a certain shot for promotion is given vague feedback about her lack of leadership.
Trans woman who has always voiced her opinion no longer since her boss has made gender-insensitive comments.
The Black woman whose concerns have helped to create better products for the company isn’t comfortable expressing feedback when she’s told she’s not a team member.
For women of colour and all women of colour, the feelings of anxiety are amplified due to ongoing battles with systemic racism and Bias.
We aren’t part of the community because we’re not expected to be part of the group. Our presence in most of these places results from years of activism by the grassroots and unconcernedly created laws.
Corporate and academic institutions remain entangled in the inertia of the old boy’s clubs and white supremacy. Institutional discrimination practices regularly make it difficult for people of underrepresented groups to succeed in the fullest sense.
The solution to overcome imposter syndrome isn’t fixing people but creating a culture that encourages a range of leadership styles, and that includes people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds can thrive.
The gender identity is seen as professional in the norm that Opie describes as typically “Eurocentric masculine, feminine or heteronormative.”
Confidence isn’t the same as competence.
We often mistakenly associate confidence typically demonstrated by white male leaders with leadership and competence.
Employees who don’t (or will not) follow male-centric social norms are told that they are imposters.
The same system that rewards confidence in male leaders regardless of their competence penalizes women of white descent for lack of self-confidence, females of colour who display too much confidence, and all women who display the same behaviour in ways that are considered unacceptable.
These biases are nefarious and complex and originate from the narrow definitions of acceptable behaviour derived from white male leadership models. Research by Kecia Thomas.
Thomas reveals that companies often hire women of colour as “pets”; however, they are viewed as a threat once they acquire control of their jobs. Women of colour aren’t one-dimensional. However, we are frequently joined by the common experience of navigating stereotypes that prevent us from reaching our full potential.
Fixing Bias, Not Women
Imposter syndrome is a problem in toxic, biased societies promoting individualism and excessive work.
But, unsurprisingly, the “fix woman’s imposter disorder” myth has persisted for decades. We view inclusive workplaces as an important multivitamin to ensure that women of colour can flourish.
Instead of focusing on resolving imposter syndrome, people who are excluded and discriminated against need to be able to experience a significant cultural shift.
Leaders need to create a positive society that is inclusive of women and people of colour that is inclusive and addresses discrimination and racism that is systemic.
By doing this, we lessen the negative experiences that lead to the so-called imposter syndrome that affects people from communities that are marginalized or at least aid those employees to overcome their doubts and self-confidence to gain positive motivation that can be best cultivated within an environment that is supportive of work.
Maybe we can stop misdiagnosing women suffering from “imposter syndrome” one and for all.
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