Imposter syndrome is chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override feelings of success.
Self-doubt and the popular term “imposter syndrome” infiltrate corporate America daily. Women – and specifically, women of color – are more likely to have this experience at significantly higher rates.
The term “imposter syndrome” was coined by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978. It is usually described as chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or proven skills and capabilities.
In fact, 70% of the U.S. population experiences this syndrome at some point of their lives. One example: setting high expectations for yourself at work, but even when you meet and exceed your goals, you still feel like a failure — like you didn’t do enough. Or another example: You are hesitant to speak up at a meeting at work because you’re afraid you’ll look incompetent if you don’t answer the question correctly. So you remain silent.
The examples above are an all too real experience for most women of color in corporate America. Doubting their capabilities of success is at the very top of the list. This is not just an experience, or voices inside of our minds; The subtle messages we get from society daily reinforce this in us.
Data show that there’s a direct influence between imposter syndrome and the microaggressions that women of color experience in their day-to-day lives.
Some of these microaggressions are ignited in daily experiences. For one, when a store clerk follows you around during your lunch break because you look suspicious of stealing. Another is returning to work after your lunch break and being mistaken for an entry-level employee at a meeting with an external vendor, when you’re actually the vice president. Yet another — colleagues ignore your ideas in a group collaboration session.
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These scenarios (which have really happened to colleagues of mine) are a daily reminder that women of color have to work harder to beat the odds stacked against them. When the world is subtly and constantly pushing doubts about the person’s status, experiences or capabilities, it can deepen the level of self-doubt. It often bleeds into how women of color see themselves in their careers and in their lives.
Companies and their leaders can start with educating employees on imposter syndrome and how microaggressions impact it. They can also provide targeted strategies that will create emotional safety for all employees. The more their employees feel the confidence of being themselves and in their abilities, the more it will enhance the culture and profit.
Employers can also try developing an inclusive culture that allows for everyone to have the ability to talk freely about their experiences in hopes to educate one another. Some strategies might include quarterly seminars, open discussions, or implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy that directly addresses microaggressions and imposter syndrome.
The burden is not only for women of color to work on this issue for themselves, but for it to be a collaborative effort between them and the employers in hopes of fixing the systems that exacerbate these specific experiences. When everyone at an organization feels empowered and motivated to perform at their highest potential, the company as a whole wins.
Mayka Rosales-Peterson is the channel marketing coordinator for Telesystem. She also is a committee member for the Alliance of Channel Women and the Channel Partners/Channel Futures Allies of the Channel Council.
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