‘How long before everyone finds out I do not belong here?’
How long before someone calls me out for the fraud that I am?
‘I’ve only been lucky so far’
Any of these thoughts sound familiar?
Rest assured that you are not alone; it happens to the best of the most brilliant minds. It is called imposter syndrome and I have come across many definitions for it, but my favourite is how Isa Orbe-Austin put it.
‘Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon where when you have skills, accomplishments, credentials and you haven’t internalized them so that you tend to have fear of being exposed as a fraud and as a result of that fear of exposure, you do either of two things: overwork or self-sabotage.’
Everyone has the tendency to feel like an intellectual fraud even in the face of records that prove otherwise but it is most common among:
No surprises here; for me, it has to do with identity. When your very identity has been relegated to pervasive stereotypes, it is easy for you to project the cause of your accomplishments outwardly rather than own them.
- Women taking on a new endeavour
Going through developmental experiences, especially when there are people with more experience doing the same thing, can throw you a little off your game.
- High achievers who are unable to internalize their successes
This is where it gets tricky because this group of people often battle the phenomenon even in the face of proven success.
Once the cancer of imposter syndrome strikes, it may never go away, especially if you continue to work in the environment that holds all the triggers for it. The key is to manage it and the following are a few tips to help:
- Own your success/accomplishments/greatness
- Ditch the victim mindset
- Practice self-care
- Quit that job
- Seek professional help
Women of Colour
Let’s face it, internal issues may be the cause of imposter syndrome in other societies but when it comes to women of colour, most triggers are deeply and intricately woven into the very fabric of our society. So, if you ask me, I say we first take the fight outwardly and smash everything that needs smashing before we look inwards.
Mainstream ‘black womanness’ is changing. Despite the persistent inequalities between men and women on access to the labour market, there has been notable progress in the past 20 years. The days of responsibilities of domestic work disproportionately falling on women’s shoulders may not entirely be behind us but we have come a long way.
As equal economic participation by all continues to take center stage on the agenda of many international development policy frameworks such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, there are more daily wins for gender equality, especially in the corporate world. Unfortunately, gaining notoriety right alongside it is the phenomenon of calling to question the competence of even the highest achieving women with proven record of success whenever they take up leadership positions.
Try being a non-conformist, outspoken, confident and self-reliant woman of colour and watch how quickly you become the subject of idle workplace gossip. If you’re not in a leadership position, no matter how hard you try, your good effort will always count as character flaws. If you’re in a leadership position, there is nothing quite unsettling as having someone second-guess your every move. No matter how well put-together you are, this could take a heavy toll on your general composure, not to mention its knock-on effects on your overall productivity.
When it’s a matter of general public interest, such as when a woman is appointed as the running mate of a major political party in Ghana, she gets all the psychological support she needs. However, in the case of women rising to topmost positions of private organizations that have no business putting their business out in the public, those women are on their own and utterly indefensible. For them, it doesn’t only feel lonely at the top; it feels fraudulent as well.
They are the people this article is really about; empowering corporate women at top-level management to overcome imposter syndrome and maybe through them, we can change the culture of work to become more respectful to all and to create equal opportunities for all to flourish.
Getting a handle on the situation before it wreaks irreversible havoc.
- First, bear in mind that whether done stealthily or openly, workplace predating is bullying
and bullies can smell fear and vulnerability from miles away and exploit it to their advantage. The best way to deal with them is to be right up in their faces. It bears reiterating here that you proudly own your success and your accomplishments, leaving room for no one to belittle them.
- Such stressful situations have the tendency to force people into developing tunnel vision. Don’t be so fixated on the few bad attitudes that you’re totally oblivious to everything else around you. Don’t let the negativity consume you that you tend to squander every piece of goodwill thrown your way. Not everyone enjoys the workplace drama nor has time for it. Look out for those people and openly compliment their good attitude as a step towards building a healthier working environment.
- This third point may be a bit of a slippery slope but if done with the right amount of caution can produce tremendous results. The best way to defeat stereotypical assumptionists is to beat them at their own game. Here’s what I propose you do. Design a workplace game that forces people to assess their performance through the same lenses they do others’, which is with baseless assumptions, and see how they react.
- Lastly, self-care cannot be overemphasized. Without a healthy mind, you won’t have the emotional reserve to deal with life’s excesses like imposter syndrome.