Where It Begins
The end of university signifies the beginning of one’s second phase in life; employment. Qualifications that are deemed as well respected and necessary in order to change the world’s perspective on minority groups, can provide an ego boost for a young black woman. However, certain criteria in households in Botswana on what makes a good degree or not come with the harsh reality that you might not be the changemaker you want to be. Opportunities are limited and that will lead to one thing; settling for a job you might not enjoy. How does a young Motswana woman living in Gaborone deal with the undermining that occurs in offices where her abilities and skills are constantly being called to question?
Imposter syndrome amongst African women can be linked to the lack of representation in their place of work. According to the BBC article, Why Imposter Syndrome Hits Women and Women of Colour the Hardest, black women are more likely to experience this feeling, which turns into believing they do not belong in that space.
In Botswana, there are more offices, particularly in corporations that have Black Batswana women working in higher sectors of the company and succeeding. An article by The Patriot demonstrated that of the top six corporate leaders, 50% were women 2020 Best Corporate Leaders. While this is a power move, it can be intimidating and brew unintentional competition amongst those in the office who are not of the same qualifications, age, and class status.
When I was a freshly minted social sciences graduate in my first corporate law job, an older Black woman made it clear that I could not work in a law firm because although I am qualified to do research, only attorneys are allowed to navigate that spectrum. As a result, I was placed at the reception and paid a final year intern’s salary. The constant undermining and the age gap were clear. Particularly, in a culture that emphasizes the need to respect your elders, attempting to stand up for yourself leads to either being placed in a position you are overqualified for, or you getting fired.
Imposter Syndrome During COVID-19
COVID-19 as a pandemic has heightened and infiltrated a deeper-rooted inferiority complex amongst Black women who are job seekers during this time and trying to find a middle ground between sanity and a paycheck. With the new strain having reached Botswana, bringing hard times, and a newly implemented curfew, there is going to be more difficulty cementing employment.
Social media platforms particularly LinkedIn and Twitter are filled with “I got the job” posts also have a negative toll, as one can end up comparing themselves and figuring out when their turn will arrive. I kept the assumption I was a success because I was lucky to find permanent employment during a rocky time. Also, that I was able to go through the tough times and was prospering so I deserved brownie points as this phenomenal Motswana woman who managed to persevere through it all. However, even in that bubble, I realized that I was not taking the situation as is, but constantly telling myself what should be my story of black womanhood in Africa.
Removing the Narrative
Feeding into this narrative was the reason my imposter syndrome flourished more. One will completely disregard what it means to fulfill their purpose in their respective field, and the fantasy of becoming a success story that could be used and put on a platform with overcoming all odds that are stacked up against everyone during a pandemic.
The voice and complexity of defying being an exceptional, strong woman who perseveres regardless of her situation is difficult. However, even doing so means that you have chosen a narrative that may present you as weak. The toxicity in these thoughts that are tied to what is seen as the strong black woman trope, becomes hard to shake off.
The most overwhelming part of experiencing a wave of imposter syndrome is that you know it will eventually pass. When? You will not know. But you have to challenge it by any means in order for it to not take over and become another “what if” moment. Some tips are given by the training journal Ten ways to build an inclusive culture for black women. We as black women are in a constant state of idealizing the “what if”. The time spent fantasizing about what we could do and what we are doing eats us up.
To reiterate the question of conquering imposter syndrome; it is never conquered, only accepted. You learn to accept that there are some applications you will never qualify for, places that won’t welcome you, and spaces that need constant interruption in order for one to feel at home. Imposter syndrome needs you in the experience to work with it and not against it. Particularly for a Black woman, it needs you to let go of societal expectations placed on you, and accept your own expectations as the blueprint for your own success.