In the 1970s, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes created a theory that women were plagued in the workplace by a condition known as imposter syndrome. They believed that women with imposter syndrome believed that they weren’t intelligent or capable at work, even if they had a reputable education and skill set.
The findings led many women to identify with the symptoms of imposter syndrome. They felt that men in the same position could accomplish more than they could or that their skills weren’t as good as their male counterparts. Numerous books described women’s battle with the condition and how to overcome it.
However, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy aren’t limited to women. Men can feel the same emotions, although they may express them differently. It’s possible that Imposter Syndrome isn’t a condition but a feeling brought on by systemic bias and racism.
According to Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, Imposter Syndrome presents itself via several symptoms:
People with imposter syndrome often have parents who worked blue-collar jobs and didn’t attend college. Individuals of color are more likely to develop symptoms associated with Imposter Syndrome.
Doctors and psychologists recommend various treatments for Imposter Syndrome. Often, doctors advise their patients to see a therapist or read books that encourage confidence building.
What if the cause of imposter syndrome isn’t the person who suffers from it but the workplace itself?
White males have long been the dominating leadership force of corporations and other businesses. In fact, females make up only 8% of CEOs in the United States.
Considering that women outnumber men in the workforce, the fact that men continue to lead in the boardroom is curious. It stands to reason that the board would reflect the composition of the staff, including gender and ethnicity.
However, change takes time, and the expectation that men manage organizations while others support them is hard to eradicate. Often, men receive the benefit of mentorship from other managers, and they can overcome concerns about their worth as they grow more comfortable in their skills and receive validation.
Women and those of color who grow up in high-achieving environments are more likely to experience the effects of imposter syndrome. They may be hardwired to push themselves to accomplish more than their parents did or set their own lofty goals.
Organizations that don’t have substantial diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies may be more likely to support male leadership even though their female staff may have similar qualifications and skills. D&I policies have grown over the past decade as more people demand that workplaces be supportive of everyone.
Crucially, diversity starts with a company’s hiring process. A good hiring structure will seek to incorporate more individuals from different ethnic backgrounds and genders. The educational and skill requirements for a role don’t change, but the HR team aims to find more individuals with diverse experience for the talent pool.
HR can use various platforms to reach people it usually wouldn’t, like searching out candidates from HBCUs or advertising openings on job sites where ethnically diverse people are likely to search.
As HR expands its reach, candidates naturally fall into gender and ethnicity categories, and the company organically creates a diverse staff. People will likely feel more comfortable leading and sharing their ideas in a mixed environment. They don’t think that their peers won’t accept them or bully them for being successful.
Some individuals have biases against ethnicities and genders that they may be unaware of, even if they are generally fairly self-aware professionals.
People of the same race or ethnicity tend to gravitate toward one another. Individuals from diverse backgrounds who work in an environment dominated by one race or gender may feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions or holding leadership roles.
It can be challenging to overcome preexisting, unconscious biases. Black females may feel they don’t belong in a workplace dominated by white males. Similarly, white women may believe their place is to support management, not lead the organization.
Hispanics and Asians can also feel uncomfortable in workplace environments dominated by whites. Unless they have support through a mentor or there are active D&I mechanisms in place, they may be less likely to participate in furthering organizational goals. In some cases, they may leave for other opportunities.
Correcting natural biases isn’t a process that happens overnight. It can take years, or even decades, to change thought patterns. Adults who have grown up with prejudices may be unable to change their beliefs without active outside help.
While biases may be innate, we can learn to recognize them and try to change our thinking processes. Those in management positions are more likely to be effective in bringing change. If they know more about the importance of D&I and how an imbalanced workforce can negatively impact an organization, they can lead by example.
People are often willing to follow the precedent set by those in leadership roles, especially if they act authentically and take actions that resonate with others. Managers who put significant effort toward diverse team building are more likely to reap the benefits.
While we’ve been told for decades that imposter syndrome is a condition that the sufferer must overcome, that may not be true. It may arise as a combination of factors, both environmental and ingrained in individual personalities.
Women and men can work on developing their confidence at work, but they also need a supportive environment from company leadership and colleagues.
Learning about D&I initiatives and implementing them can make a genuine difference in establishing a workforce that respects all employees for their skills and abilities, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity.
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