Far too often in corporate environments, Women of Color are the most underrepresented group. The mere fact that one can look around the room and not see as many women and possibly no other people of color can have an effect on how you view yourself. Enter “Imposter Syndrome.” Undoubtedly these environments are a perfect breeding ground for women of color to begin to ask oneself, “do I belong here?” Harvard Business Review author Gill Corkindale defines Imposter Syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” Women of color can literally become blind to their own self-worth, success and experience deep-rooted feelings of not belonging.
I am the only one in the room, so am I really supposed to be here? Am I just the token to fill a diversity quota? Could I have literally been the most inexperienced person but time and opportunity aka ‘Luck’ aligned so here I am. If you’ve ever said these words or thought these thoughts, or others like them, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome. Every step up the ladder is met with an extreme amount of fear and anxiety as opposed to celebration and excitement. If you ended up in the room out of pity, then just as quickly (even if it really hasn’t been quick) as you took the seat in the executive role or board room, it could all be snatched away. Perfectionists unfortunately experience an added layer on imposter syndrome of feeling as though, I already don’t belong here, but now that I’m here, I definitely can’t mess up.
Having an expectation that you will never make a mistake or test something that doesn’t end up being what’s best for the business stifles your creativity and innovation. Fear of failing is not a mindset for thrivers. Imposter Syndrome snatches your ability to dream and to flourish, because the focus is on everything that could go wrong and how inadequate you are for the role when in reality, you. are. everything. already.
The damage of imposter syndrome is not done overnight and it usually isn’t done consciously. It’s the voice you speak to yourself with, usually non-verbal. As are the context clues from corporate environments that reinforce your thoughts. Payscale states, “a black woman with the same job and qualifications would need to repeat 2020 2.2 times to catch up to white men’s lifetime earnings.” If a predominantly white male-led company is not actively attacking the pay gap, bias, stereotypes and potential societal norms that they’ve been taught and conditioned with, then it is more likely the culture will reinforce the imposter syndrome in women of color. In ignoring women of color for potential opportunities for advancement, in paying women of color less, having no opening for equal and valued feedback in meetings and not committing to remove the imaginary and often incorrect “box” that women are placed in – companies prohibit women of color from showing up fully. No one wins in that scenario.
In the end though, whether imposter syndrome continues to have free reign in your brain or whether you reel it in and destroy it, is completely within your control. As a starting point, here are three tips to squashing the imposter syndrome.
- Find a Power Group: One thing I have realized is that imposter syndrome is much more common amongst women of color in corporate environments than you may realize. You are not alone. Your feelings, though they feel isolating and daunting, are not felt by you alone. Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach said, “Women, women of color, especially black women, as well as the LGBTQ community are most at risk,”… “when you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or underserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur.” Finding a group that not only understands but may also be experiencing similar exclusions from important meetings or undervalued ideas in the workplace, helps to reassure you that something is actually occurring and you’re not out of your mind. Sometimes, you may even have the opportunity for your peers to call you out in your negative self-talk and help you to begin your journey to healing.
- Stop Negative Self Talk: Not to say that your value lies in the opinions of others but it’s important to remember how many people, including executives, are involved in a hiring process. It was not luck and it was not an accident that you ended up where you are. It’s important to remove your own limitations and boundaries because in all honesty, what do you have to lose from shining? What do you have to lose from stepping in the forefront and being courageous – even if your idea isn’t accepted right away. Outside of journaling your wins on a daily basis, its also important to take a step away from the regular course of business to pour into yourself. There is power in positivity and hearing yourself, speak well of yourself, TO yourself is extremely important and impactful.
- Put Fear in your rearview: Fear is paralyzing. Fear is even more detrimental when you truly believe at any moment you could be exposed as a fraud or unqualified. However, fear has no place in your future so put it in its proper place – behind you. Don’t empower your fear by shrinking down, but instead take the leap. Ask for the raise, ask for the promotion, ask for the opportunity and document your value and wins often. Make sure you continue to sell yourself to influencers in the organization and industry but also reinforce how much of a contributor you are (even to yourself) by assessing the projects you’re working on and be able to answer at any moment, “what did you contribute to this initiative?” It helps to write it out and recap for yourself as well so that it’s top of mind if ever asked or if you end up in a conversation with an executive.
Hopefully this piece has enabled you to identify whether you’re living with imposter syndrome. And if so, there are resources available to ensure you don’t have to stay in that place. Although referencing corporate situations in this article, imposter syndrome undoubtedly spreads into other areas of your life so it is imperative that your mindset is addressed. For additional resources and networking, make sure to follow Shades Women of Color in Sales, Tech & Innovation on Facebook and Instagram @shadeswomenllc.