Imposter Syndrome: The Surprising Cause

woman with overwhelmed expression sitting at a computer with a man on each side of her pointing at her

It happens to so many of us. We dream big, work hard to achieve what we want, scale every imaginable mountain in our way, and when we finally arrive, the self-doubt barrels in with an unstoppable vengeance. The thoughts and feelings of not being good enough, not learning fast enough, or not feeling as capable as those around you are often attributed to what we know as imposter syndrome. And if you’ve ever felt this struggle, you’re most certainly not alone.

As Latinas, we face many challenges in the workplace that we can directly attribute to our membership in two marginalized groups: women and people of color. We’re not here to tell you to get over it; trust yourself, you’re good enough, and otherwise, attempt to gloss over the very real feelings that we all experience. Yes, the truth is that we are powerful and capable, but it’s also the truth that these feelings arise from external conditions that create this doubt in the first place, and that needs to be acknowledged.

What exactly is imposter syndrome?

Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term after studying the behaviors of high-achieving women who, despite their accomplishments, believed that they were not actually bright and had just fooled everyone into believing they were. It’s also been attributed to believing success happened solely because of luck or chance and not through hard work or innate talent.

Being the only Latina in the room

White, land-owning men built American society, which means that Latinas experience systemic racism in the workplace at all levels of the continuum. From silent discrimination like lower wages for equal work to loud and proud racism in the form of harassment and verbal assault, trying to succeed in a system not built for you is exhausting and breeds constant doubt.

A highly accomplished woman often knows that she is highly accomplished and talented, but what happens if her peers don’t recognize her as such? For many Latinas, the problem stems from being “the only Latina in the room” and therefore doubting if they actually belong there. Why don’t men suffer from imposter syndrome as much as women do? It’s simple; society teaches men that positions of power are where they’re meant to be.

Therefore part of overcoming imposter syndrome is understanding this reality. Getting mansplained isn’t because you don’t understand; it’s because culture and bias towards your race and gender have overinflated many white men’s egos.

Of course, the degradation Latinas experience at work and in many facets of life isn’t just limited to white men. The entire hierarchy of color means that race and gender play a critical role in creating environments where imposter syndrome runs rampant, and more so amongst women of color.

How do we defeat imposter syndrome?

An internet search will produce thousands of results and suggest many self-help books, and sure, there are things women can do to overcome these baseless beliefs, but the problem is deeper than that. Authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey wrote, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome,” an interesting take on how imposter syndrome has to be eliminated through systemic changes and not through internal work by the individual. They write, “Imposter syndrome is especially prevalent in biased, toxic cultures that value individualism and overwork. Yet the “fix women’s imposter syndrome” narrative has persisted, decade after decade.”

So while there is always value in personal development, we must also understand that a major part of this problem doesn’t have to do with women at all and everything to do with the sexist and racist systems we are stuck in. The solutions then, seem to lie in the dismantling and rebuilding of these systems so that better, more equitable systems can foster talent rather than privilege.

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