I’ve been following Imposter Syndrome research at a distance for decades. It first attracted me because it helped me make sense of what I was experiencing in the academe. I felt less alone when I read the statistics and learned that many high achieving women felt like frauds while still excelling and making the world a more equitable place. The research would show the “symptoms” of Imposter Syndrome through case studies of high achieving women.
In other words, we and our symptoms were in good company. What more could I want than to be on a list with Michelle Obama and Justice Sony Sotomayor? I would return to my quiet corner and try to feel more sure of myself. Guess what? It didn’t work. I needed to invoke feminist theory in my coaching to really cut through the effects of Imposter Syndrome.
Rarely did the research analyze workplaces or offer a systems approach to understanding Imposter Syndrome. In a country like the United States that was founded on white supremacy culture, patriarchy and hustle mentality, we must look at the remnants of that legacy in our social systems and institutions.
We need a feminist analysis to stop blaming women for experiencing Imposter Syndrome with a prescription for a quick fix. Recently, I read an article on LinkedIn by a white woman working in finance who shared that Imposter Syndrome benefits her because it pushes her to read more current data and to strive excellence. And, this was a promo for this company’s DEI initiatives!
Do you see the problem? This narrative erases the root of “Imposter Syndrome” by focusing on what those experiencing it can or “should” do to eliminate it from their lives. It diagnoses us with a syndrome and a list of symptoms.
We need an intersectional feminist analysis to ask questions about why BIPOC folks, women, LGBTQ+ individuals and first generation students most often experience Imposter syndrome. Feminism asks makes visible power structures in leadership and elements of white supremacy culture (perfectionism, hustle culture, competition, etc.) that permeate the workplace. It shows a causal effect between organizational leadership and the workplace experience. Intersectional feminism recognizes that social systems and institutions were not designed for marginalized groups to lead or to generate new knowledge.
The list of penalties for not fitting neatly into employers’ expectations around gender, race, sexuality, ability, and religious affiliation look a lot like “common signs of Imposter Syndrome” (Google it.):
An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills.
Attributing your success to external factors.
Berating your performance.
Fear that you won’t live up to expectations.
Sabotaging your own success.
Are you ready to flip the narrative and shed the very real experiences of Imposter Syndrome through a feminist approach? Do you want to change the systems that generate Imposter Syndrome? Ready to move beyond “Imposter Syndrome?”
I coach glass-shattering, patriarchy-smashing, impact-making women through an individualized 12-week coaching system. I teach clients reusable, research-based coaching skills so they can feel confident and calm while creating a more equitable world.