Why Everyone Has Imposter Syndrome All Wrong

Part II

Imposter Syndrome, as we know it, is flawed and most solutions often don’t work.

In this 5 part series, we’ll uncover the truth about imposter syndrome and show you how to harness it to fuel your personal growth and diminish its destructive affects from your life.

In the last post, I talked about what we know about imposter syndrome and the ways that it can affect leaders. You can ->> read it here <<-.

As a reminder, imposter syndrome is common term to describe feeling inadequate and / or unworthy of your position and the accompanying fear that others will find out that you don’t belong and see you as a fraud.

There are a couple things that I left out in my last post, so let’s first address who experiences it and when it happens.

Who Is Affected By Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can be experienced by anyone: artists, doctors, parents, executives, writers, managers, students, entrepreneurs, inventors, stay at home moms, therapists, speakers, and so on.

No one is immune. It affects people of all genders, races, ages, regardless of social standings and income levels.

When Does Imposter Syndrome Happen?

Imposter syndrome usually arises when you’re starting something new, doing something outside of your norm, or you’re in a high pressure situation where there is a lot depending on your success.

You may experience it when you’re:

  • newly promoted to your first management role over your peers when some of them have been there longer.
  • a recent college graduate and are worried that your new degree hasn’t truly prepared you for what’s happening in the real world.
  • returning to work after maternity leave or a leave of absence.
  • the first Latina in a C-Suite position at your job and the only person of color in the room.
  • in your third year as a business owner and recently hired your first full time employee to help the company scale.
  • a non-binary founder of a revolutionary system that will save lives who is in talks with a potential major investor.
  • offered a new job or it’s your first day at work where your main goal is to learn the ropes quickly and fit in seamlessly.

  • a woman defending her PhD to an all-male defense committee.

While imposter syndrome is often talked about as something that only happens in the workplace and higher education, it can also show up in your relationships, friendships, and other areas of your personal life. The way that it presents may be different. Here are a few examples:

Let’s start at the beginning.

Who Coined Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome, actually “imposter phenomenon”, was first coined by two psychologists, Drs. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who conducted a study in 1978 that focused on high achieving professional women. They found that many of the participants believed that, despite accolades and accomplishments, they weren’t intelligent and were fooling those who disagreed.

“…despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.” – Drs. Clance and Imes

Source: https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fh0086006

This brings me to the first problem.

Where Imposter Syndrome Misses the Mark

The findings at that time completely missed how imposter syndrome affects members of marginalized communities, especially Black and Brown women, transgender and non-binary people. Granted, at the time, things were different with the way that we identify and how we are now talking about the importance of diversity.

Unfortunately with new studies and discussions on the subject, there still is not enough attention paid to how marginalized people experience imposter syndrome and why. For some, it was brought on by the microaggressions, gaslighting, bullying, passive aggressive behavior, office politics that penalize and don’t protect them, among other issues faced by “tokens”, or the only one (or very few) of their kind in the workplace.

“For women of color, self-doubt and the feeling that we don’t belong in corporate workplaces can be even more pronounced — not because women of color (a broad, imprecise categorization) have an innate deficiency but because the intersection of our race and gender often places us in a precarious position at work.” – Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey for the Harvard Business Review

Source: https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-imposter-syndrome

“Still, differing in any way from the majority of your peers — whether by race, gender, sexual orientation or some other characteristic — can fuel the sense of being a fraud.”- Kirsten Weir for the American Psychological Association

Source: https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud

Another problem with imposter syndrome is that it is typically positioned as solely the fault and responsibility of the person who is suffering with it. There are articles, books, TED Talks, courses, and speeches that talk about what imposter syndrome is and how one can overcome it.

Not often is it viewed or discussed as a problem that is caused by, or exacerbated in, certain corporate environments and societal conditions.

All the solutions are geared toward the individual fixing it within themselves, but in mostly focusing on the individual, the system in which it resides is ignored.

While I am not saying that this absolves you of the need to do your own inner work, I do believe it is important to keep in mind. It’s hard to work on things internally when you’re swimming in a toxic environment where people are penalized for making mistakes and pushed to work beyond their limits.

These environments often foster competition without guardrails to ensure that it’s healthy, have a lack of ongoing training for managers and leaders to develop better leadership skills and things like professional communication, Emotional Intelligence, and cultural sensitivities and considerations as the workforce becomes more diverse. They focus on bringing in diverse groups of people to be able to say that they did something, but completely overlook the -isms (racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc.), phobias (xenophobia, homophobia, fatphobia, etc.), and other biases inherent in the way their system functions and how the new diversity hires are likely to respond to working within it over time.

As a leader, this all may seem like a tall order to take on, but change starts with you and your awareness of the issue is the best place to start.

Once you’re aware of how you experience imposter syndrome and what’s helpful to manage it, you may start to notice it in others. Your response can be a driver for honest conversations about it with more understanding and trust, along with potential new initiatives and better policies to create more collaborative and emotionally safe environments, with empathy and personal growth at the forefront.

Little steps can lead to big wins for all.

Let’s recap: In this series, I shared one of the ways that imposter syndrome, as it is defined, misses those in marginalized communities and the difference in the origin of imposter syndrome, for many of them.

Go to the next post to read about my two biggest gripes with imposter syndrome.

In this 5 part series, we’ll uncover the truth about imposter syndrome and show you how to harness it to fuel your personal growth and diminish its destructive affects from your life.

Each series can be viewed here:
Series 1: Intro to Imposter Syndrome
Series 2: The Major Issue That Starts at the Beginning (this page)
Series 3: TBD
Series 4: TBD
Series 5: TBD

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