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Why Black Women Struggle More In The Workplace With Imposter Syndrome

I recall attending a job interview in my mid-20's, for the role of a regional visual merchandiser, for a well-known brand and one week later receiving the news I had got the job. I would be travelling to stores across England, had a desk donned with a brand new shiny computer, and my annual salary had almost doubled. I was on the road to success - or at least that's what I believed.

The workload wasn't particularly challenging and my colleagues were both inviting and friendly. But a cluster of thoughts continuously permeated through my mind. I didn't fit in, I wasn't good enough. Why did I think I could rise to the occasion of such a rewarding job. The other candidates could probably have done the job better than me. I was useless. I was an imposter.

Something within caused me to question everything. Nobody told me I was doing my job incorrectly, or called me up on the phantom errors that were running around in my head. My credibility was never questioned, nor was I singled out or rejected. But, I couldn't help but feel inadequate and out of my depth. Three months later, I quit.

In 1978 the term Imposter Syndrome was first coined by Pauline. R Clance and Suzanne A. Imes and was described as -“internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

As women, we generally play down our achievements and society has trained us to believe we are weak, irrational and incapable, therefore our wins in life are rarely celebrated. When we are praised for our hard work or acknowledged in ways that hold our light, we play it down. When someone mentions they like something we are wearing - our first instinct is not to thank them, but to automatically lessen the praise and attention by discrediting the comment with - 'oh this dress, it was cheap/it’s old.' We very rarely sit still with the praise.

How To Recognise Imposter Syndrome
  1. Anxiety, self-doubt and excessive worry.

  2. Avoidance, isolation and procrastination.

  3. Minimalization of praise.

  4. Feeling like a fraud - underserving.

  5. Dwelling on the past.

  6. Nervous to be called out as a fraud.

  7. Minimizing capabilities.

  8. Negative self talk and rumination.

  9. Inability to acknowledge success.

  10. Difficulty seeing worth and value.

Looking back on that period of my life I recognise that I was the only black woman in my office. Surrounded by individuals who not only didn't look like me, but who were not raised in areas that my friends and I were raised. Although I was talented, trained and somewhat social. At my core I felt I shouldn't be there. The lack of black female role models, within the job and in the media also contributed to me feeling I was in the wrong place.

Now in my 30's I look back and analyse how and when I adopted such a warped mindset and how it has affected the woman I am today. Were other young women sharing the same thoughts, or were mine heightened due to the my racial background and knowledge that my skin colour was not celebrated as much.

Growing up I could not look into the future and see the effects that watching children's shows where characters I adored were played only by white girls would have on me. Or the fact that I didn't have a single doll whose features resembled my own.

I didn't feel the self inflicted pain when I chose not to use my ancestral African name and opted for my English and more palatable one. I was merely trying to adjust to a society that didn't recognise me and over 20 years later I have had to retrain and align with my identity and who I truly am.

Many women of colour are filled with negative stimuli. The constant thoughts of not being good enough, not educated enough and not fitting in are far from uncommon. As women of colour many of us have been raised with very few societal rewards. We have been made to think we are less than - with constant forms of microaggression thrown our way. From being followed around stores, having our hair scrutinised, seeing very little of women who look like us in the media, – our daily experience is a barrage of negative messaging that screams 'we are not good enough'.

We’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don't see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field – Emily Hu


All too often we, as mums, tend to put others’ priorities before our own. Ask yourself, “How many “hats” do I wear?” Mama, wife, entrepreneur, employee, Girl Guide leader, soccer coach, the list goes on… With this many hats, your mind starts to wander to things that don’t always involve you or sometimes to the negative aspects of your life.


We’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don't see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field states Emily Hu. Understandably so, as there are a lack of professional role models highlighted within the media we tend to question our worthiness for good things and have been taught that we are unworthy of professional success.

It is important for black women and women of other races to recognise that 'Imposter Syndrome' is not real and it is just your mind playing tricks on you. Learning to be vocal about it with others helps immensely. If you share your thoughts and feelings with your therapist, colleagues, family and friends, you may actually be surprised to hear of their own experiences and although it may be hard to shake, you may inherit some effective coping strategies.

If we do not support and show ourselves love in this harsh world - then who will. Learn to brag about yourself every once in a while. Celebrate your attributes, achievements and the positive words you have received from others. I have notes on my phone, in notebooks and on post its that remind me of my abilities and how amazing I am. I have worked hard to get where I am and invalid thoughts and feelings will not compromise this.

No matter what it is important for us all to step out of out comfort zones, create the trajectory that we truly believe in and remind ourselves daily of our power and worth. We are not our thoughts, or what others and even ourselves sometimes perceive us to be.

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