You Belong in the Room — Exploring Impostor Syndrome from a Black Perspective
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Why Impostor Syndrome Is More Prevalent in Black Individuals
Causes of Impostor Syndrome in the Workplace
- Lack of representation in senior leadership roles: Only 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large, U.S.-based companies are staffed by Black professionals, according to a 2020 Coqual study.
- Prejudicial attitudes: 58% of Black professionals report having experienced racial prejudice in the workplace.
- Performance expectations: Approximately two-thirds of Black professionals feel they need to work harder to advance.
- Lack of support: Black professionals may lack access to higher-level managers and professional development resources, and may also experience wage gaps.
- Workplace environments: Workplace culture is often built around dominant white identities, making it difficult for Black people to fit in socially.
Causes of Impostor Syndrome in Society
- Societal messages that people of color don’t belong, such as being followed by security while shopping
- Internalization of various microaggressions, such as being asked, “Why are you flying in first class?” or the assumption that Black students were accepted into college on athletic scholarships
- Lack of representation in elected office and the media
Common Patterns Among People Experiencing Impostor Syndrome
Tips to Overcome Impostor Syndrome
- Create a “brag-on-me” list: If you struggle with impostor syndrome, create a list of your accomplishments and attributes. Do you have skills or qualifications, such as speaking a foreign language, that your colleagues don’t? You may want to compile awards, diplomas, or accolades you’ve received in a “brag book” to review before a job interview or annual review.
- Practice positive self-talk: Lots of people repeat sayings to themselves, which psychologists call scripts. Although some scripts are positive (“I can do this!” before a tough workout), others are negative. If you fall into saying things to yourself that you would never say to a friend or colleague, stop, regroup, and shift your inner mono
- Own your accomplishments: Black professionals who struggle with impostor syndrome may be quick to attribute their success to others. Instead of saying that the only reason you accomplished a task was because of luck or help from a colleague, recognize your own efforts. If you struggle to do this, every evening make a list of all that you accomplished that day. This can be a powerful tool for building self-confidence.
- Accept that it’s OK to make mistakes: Impostor syndrome and perfectionism often go hand in hand. Although wanting to exceed others’ expectations is healthy, striving to be perfect is not only unrealistic, it can spur anxiety and exhaustion, and enhance the sense of being an impostor. Accept your failings, and understand that making mistakes is OK.
- Celebrate Black achievements: Throughout history, Black Americans have achieved milestones that have shaped the modern world. Remember people like Shirley Chisholm, who in 1969 was the first Black woman elected to Congress, and in 1972 became the first African American to run for a major party’s presidential nomination. Remember Benjamin O. Davis, who in 1940 became the first Black general in the U.S. Air Force. Celebrating and publicizing these accomplishments normalizes Black excellence.
- Seek out support resources. One way to gain confidence is to seek advice from others who have overcome challenges, including through books, podcasts, and websites. For instance:
- Minda Harts’ book, The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table, provides actionable advice for Black women who face workplace challenges ranging from unequal pay to microaggressions.
- Podcast Balanced Black Girl offers insight on impostor syndrome, self-love, and personal reflection.
- The website Therapy for Black Girls works to destigmatize mental health and encourage wellness for Black females.