As workplaces continue to strive for better diversity, equity and inclusion, leaders need to be aware of how imposter syndrome hits differently in this respect.

Imposter syndrome is far from rare. Many people are affected by it at different times in their lives, for different reasons and to different degrees.

Some years ago, I spoke to psychologist Gerry Hussey about the feeling of imposter syndrome and he was able to explain what is happening when we suffer from those bouts of self-doubt in the workplace.

He said we underestimate what we can bring to the job we’re doing and we overestimate the challenge ahead of us.

“When we can’t see the solution immediately in front of us, we start to panic,” he explained. “The quicker we put ourselves under pressure, the more dislocated we’re going to get. We become more anxious in ourselves, we become more fearful and we’re filled with self-doubt.”

While this is a struggle many people from all walks of life can relate to, imposter syndrome can affect some people more than others – specifically underrepresented workers.

This is because that dislocation that Hussey spoke about, and the general feelings that come with imposter syndrome – ‘I don’t belong here’, ‘I’m not good enough to do this’, ‘I’m a fraud’ – can be exacerbated for those who have suffered at the hands of bias.

Whether they’re people of colour, ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ community or neurodiverse employees to name but a few, underrepresented workers are likely to have not seen as many role models as their other colleagues. They may have faced biases that support their self-doubt throughout their lives and have far less supporting evidence to the contrary.

For example, studies have shown women have been discriminated against at work, have been treated as incompetent, that they have been paid less than men for doing the same job or have been passed over for promotions. Beyond gender diversity, there are ongoing issues with bias in recruitment and hiring practises – a situation that could be made worse with the increase of AI.

With all of this knowledge along with the experiences underrepresented employees have in real time, it is no wonder that feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome become more compounded, particularly when you take into consideration the loaded concept of ‘a diversity hire’.

What can employers do?

While work in the diversity, equity and inclusion space continues to be vital for all workplaces, it’s important to take a step back and think about what that really means in terms of support.

Jamie Adasi, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Greenhouse spoke at Future Human in 2020 about the importance of considering equity and inclusion as much as diversity.

“So really being able to look at things like discrimination, harassment, who’s getting promoted in the pipeline,” she said. “And with inclusion, I see inclusion specifically as who’s missing from the table? But not only that, was a table built for them in the first place?” she said.

“And if not, is there room for us to kind of renegotiate the space, to kind of have more voices at the table? And not only just do that, but also to help us have better business outcomes overall.”

Last year, I spoke to Alicin Reidy Williamson, Yahoo’s chief diversity and culture officer. She also spoke about the inclusion and culture element of DE&I work being so important for a sense of belonging, which in turn can help quell the voices of self-doubt.

“We want everyone who is at the company currently to show up and feel connected. And again, what that does is it allows people who are here to make space and be excited for the support of others because they feel supported,” she added.

Knowing how imposter syndrome can affect different employees is a key element to building a culture that truly embodies diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s also important to recognise the signs of imposter syndrome in your workers or your colleagues so that you can support them in the best way possible.

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