Imposter Syndrome: We All Feel It

“Imposter syndrome,” or that feeling that you just don’t belong or deserve your success, impacts women and minority groups disproportionately at work, according to The New York Times.

I was struck by this article, having felt “impostor syndrome” many times. Does my voice, opinion or expertise really count? Is it of value? I think many women question themselves, and the value of their contributions, in a meeting or newsroom.

The article reads, “[Impostor syndrome] persists through college and graduate school and into the working world, where women tend to judge their performance as worse than they objectively are while men judge their own as better.”

This is a problem for women and minorities’ advancement because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If women feel self-conscious about their contributions and judge their performance as worse than others in a room, then they are less likely to speak up, take on challenges, or seize prominent opportunities.

The NYT reports women tend to undermine their experience or expertise and devalue their worth. The column reminds me of a talk former First Lady Michelle Obama gave in London. She said, “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me.”

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts about our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

Obama’s advice to young women is “to start by getting those demons out of your head.”

“The question I ask myself— ‘am I good enough?—that haunts us, because the messages that are sent from the time we are little is: Maybe you are not. Don’t reach too high. Don’t talk too loud,” Obama said.

And Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

The NYT article includes a number of recommendations for overcoming Imposter Syndrome, including: own your accomplishments; visualize what success looks like; and make a list of your qualifications.

The article’s recommendations are well worth a read. Creating parity in the workplace requires not only structural and societal change, but also women and minorities believing that they are, in fact, equal, and deserving of the seniority and salary that that equality merits.

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