Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending an event at The Cove, a San Francisco-based women’s club where Latinx, African American, LGBTQ, white, British, French, and other backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures were represented in the audience. The common thread that ties us together: Impostor Syndrome.
The event’s main attraction was a panel conversation between four remarkable, complex women: Rachel Gogel, Creative Director at Facebook and Inc. Magazine and Forbes “30 under 30” List; Cluny Venables, Former Sr. Sales Manager at Twitter & mother; Zuleyka Strasner, Operations Manager at Felicis Ventures; and Amie Yudice, Sr. Recruiter at Dropbox & mother. The panel was moderated by Sarah Mills-Krutilek (SMK), Lead Recruiter at Dropbox and Co-Founder of The Cove.
Their stories illuminated an intimate, yet common experience: Impostor Syndrome. It’s more frequent than you think. Chances are you feel it often, too.
Originally called impostor phenomenon, impostor syndrome, as it’s now usually called, is commonly understood as a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill (Merriam-Webster definition).
‘Impostors’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override feelings of success or external proof of their competence. What’s more, this phenomenon seems to be most commonly felt by women.
There are countless news articles that offer tips on overcoming Impostor Syndrome, most of them directed at women. Why do we blame ourselves for this phenomenon? Why don’t we question the context that plays a role in creating these feelings and create tips for changing that instead?
SMK touched on the five types of Impostor: the Perfectionist, the Superwoman, the Natural Genius, the Rugged Individualist, and the Expert (Explained here). As I listened to these women, I had a couple realizations that challenged me to think more critically about overcoming impostor syndrome.
First: What role has the long-standing patriarchal structure imposed on us played in amplifying the impostor syndrome?
We live in a world constructed by men, and we’ve been playing by their rules for thousands of years. Women have been told to navigate life in a way that doesn’t align with what we know to work best for us, our families, our communities, and our jobs. We know in our bones that we can do more, better, faster — our way.
Women are innovative. We can figure out the best and most considerate way to accomplish greatness. And yet, since leadership has traditionally been made up of men, our aptitude for leadership and success can be measured by how much within the traditional lines we can stay.
Women across all industries hold fewer leadership positions than men, less than 10% being the norm. This is even lower for women of color. From gender bias, to institutionalized racism, to ignorance, many factors inhibit women from rising to the top — including Impostor Syndrome.
Ambitious women push the boundaries creating new paths, and as we get what we want and deserve, we might feel the pressure of the outside world to go back to the structure set in the old times. Simply put, when forging our own path of greatness, we are told that we’re outside of history, making us second guess our new approaches, thus contributing to feeling impostor syndrome.
The silver lining? We are making history. We can continue to stick together, bring each other up, and make way for our own success, our own way. When we own our experience and come together to recognize that we have worked within a structure that hasn’t quite fit us, we can create our own new mold. Let us dismiss the misconception that we are to blame for impostor syndrome, and implement new vernacular and structure that celebrates and adopts our ways.
Second: Could impostor syndrome be amplified by a lack of strong mentorship, guidance, and support? Could it be resolved by asking for these from women and men alike?
Rewriting the narrative of leadership and success is a challenge that women across the country are eager to tackle. Women’s clubs have been springing up at a faster rate than ever before. Of course, we know that women have gathered in formal and exclusive salons or religious groups for centuries. But what we’re seeing today is different. These clubs serve primarily to network, grow professionally, make new friends, and most commonly, to empower women.
Clubs like The Cove, The Wing, and #LatinaGeeks are vital in helping women grow in whatever way they choose and in help shape the narrative about what success looks like. They are important and can’t exist in a vacuum. We need the support of male friends, partners, colleagues, and allies, too!
My challenge for us all is: let’s ask for what we need, from both women and men. Let’s ask our male partners and colleagues to join us in creating an environment where support, guidance, open communication, and constant re-evaluation of methods and practices is the norm. Let’s support other women doing this, too.
We will need to create inclusive environments where we allow everyone to grow, ensuring women have a fair and equitable chance to succeed — taking the path that works for us.
Let’s create an environment that puts aside the misconception of impostor syndrome, and makes way for a celebration of new ideas.