Imposter Syndrome and The Role of Bias
part 3 of a 6-part series discussion of imposter syndrome:
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Wait, maybe I can’t.
Imposter Syndrome is more than insecurity, some claim it’s a bias.
Imposter Syndrome (IS) is a condition that describes high-achieving individuals, who despite being successful by external standards experience an internal and pervasive illusion of incompetence. Much of the conversation on this topic has been focused on understanding this phenomenon. Still, more consideration should be given to the possible bias that may contribute to this condition. The warring of intuitive simultaneous thinking, “I can.” and “I can’t.” can become debilitating and have caused some to miss out on walking in confidence in the workplace and as entrepreneurs.
More Than Self-Doubt
It is a fair argument that everyone experiences self-doubt at times, but this is not the same as suffering from imposter syndrome. Both are common roadblocks and a distraction. Yet, while these two overlap in aspects of uncertainty, irrational thoughts, and low self-esteem, there exist differentiators. The biggest differentiator is that self-doubt occurs occasionally causing hesitation, while imposter syndrome is persistent and consistent at the same time in achieving success.
Psychology Today has defined bias as, “a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone.” It goes on to state, “biases are often based on stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge of an individual or circumstance. Whether positive or negative, such cognitive shortcuts can result in prejudgments that lead to rash decisions or discriminatory practices.”
This may seem contradictory but bias is a natural inclination as a result of perceived learned behavior. Its learning is dependent upon variables such as race, ethnicity, educational background, and socioeconomic status. To be clear, everyone has some degree of bias both positive and negative. Nonetheless, negative bias often impacts personal and professional relationships. In that we all have biases, some are problematic in that some treat others poorly based on these variables.
Bias and Imposter Syndrome
Studies widely report that imposter syndrome is experienced by people from every demographic. This is true. Yet, be that as it may, it is not experienced equally in each demographic.
While self-doubt and imposter syndrome invades the workplace, women of color are more likely to experience and struggle with this condition. In short, the reason why is the result of negative bias. Hardworking Black women in the workplace are not duly acknowledged and their voices are barely heard and not received as an authority. Not given the same recognition as peers with equal or less standing, has the potential to evoke emotions of imposter syndrome. Hence despite this phenomenon being experienced in every demographic, Black women are at higher risk within.
Living in a male-dominated world, the odds are already stacked. Adding to the stack are layers of bias. Working within systems where you are reminded (directly or indirectly), that you are less-than or undeserving, triggers the behavior of imposter syndrome. The triggers manifest in varied ways, but most likely in the three most popular types of IS: perfectionist, expert, and soloist.
Bias In The Boardrooms
Despite progress, diverse voices are often absent in the workplace and with historical context. A research study reported by Catalyst stated that although representing 18% of the US population, women of color hold only 4.6% of seats in boardrooms. Corporations are beginning to pay attention. White men are holding two-thirds of the seats in the boardroom and white women are holding 4 times as many seats as women of color. With such little representation, is it any wonder that women of color particularly Black women feel doomed within the workplace and adversely impacted by imposter syndrome?
One Black employee shares her experience,
What role do you think bias plays when considering the lack of representation in the workplace and the boardrooms for women of color?
The problem is that even though doing well, reaching achievements, and receiving recognition, it has little impact on perceived internal beliefs attached to the condition of imposter syndrome. In fact, the effects are adverse. The more you accomplish, the more you experience fraudulent feelings. Your belief systems prevent you from internalizing your success.
Without effective representation within the workplace to break the vice grip of imposter syndrome, these negative feelings intensify brushes of perceived discrimination, anxiety, and depression for underrepresented groups but especially among African Americans. Some argue this group needs to increase their confidence, yet a larger solution-based argument is to fix the bias.
While imposter syndrome has yet been given recognition as a psychological disorder, it has been closely aligned with and often diagnosed as a social anxiety disorder which is recognized in DSM-5. In terms of social anxiety, receiving early poor feedback strengthens faulty core beliefs even though the evidence is contrary.
In driving change as it relates to imposter syndrome, there is an intersectional approach being considered in two major communities, the medical community, and the corporate community. The Journal of Mental Health and Clinical Psychology released a study and commentary on prevalence, predictors, and treatment of imposter syndrome. It argues imposter syndrome should be considered as a clinical disorder and addresses its prevalence within the workplace.
Corporations too are recognizing the impact of this phenomenon and employee performance, growth, and reputation management. Investors (more than 53%) have acknowledged the importance and placed board diversity to include more women of color as a top priority. They’ve considered this top-down approach as one of the solutions in addressing and embracing diversity within the workplace. While change may not occur fast enough for some, we must note that one has to start somewhere. These decisions are indeed a favorable solution in addressing the role bias plays as it relates to imposter syndrome.
We are halfway through our 6-part series discussing imposter syndrome. If you are just tuning in, check out our previous discussions, Are You A Fraud, and The Mental Health Impact of Imposter Syndrome. Our mission with this series is to drive conversation and change by means of acknowledgment and accountability. Join our mailing list to learn more about how you play a role in pushing this conversation forward. Meanwhile, leave your thoughts below.