Why Latinas and Black Women Struggle With Imposter Syndrome So Much
Illustration by Rachel Yumi; yumiincolor/Instagram
We’ve all been there before. We’re in a room full of smart, successful, qualified people, and we begin to feel self-conscious. A small internal voice tells you: You don’t belong here. You’re inexperienced. And as soon as you open your mouth, they’ll all be able to tell. For women of color, this voice can become all-consuming. After all, most of us have gone our whole lives being told–explicitly or otherwise–that we’re not bound for success. This phenomenon is called imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome and is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity and incompetence despite evidence that you are skilled and successful.”
It’s likely that you’ve heard of this before. The concept picked up steam in 2013 when Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg talked about it in her landmark book “Lean In.” That’s right–even the COO of Facebook feels like an imposter sometimes.
Imposter syndrome is especially prevalent among women, and even more so among high-achieving women. A study conducted by Heriot-Watt University revealed that 54% of women experience imposter syndrome compared to 24% of men. And when you add race and ethnicity into the mix, the numbers become even more stark.
Since the concept of imposter syndrome has become mainstream, more and more Latina and Black women have come out and said that they feel this way.
Last year, Eva Longoria said that she feels imposter syndrome whenever she walks on set as a director, despite directing for 10 years. Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o says that she goes through “acute imposter syndrome” with “every role” she takes on. No matter how rich, successful, or educated they become, Latina and Black women experience imposter syndrome.
And this phenomenon isn’t just anecdotal; the data backs it up. According to a study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, Blacks and Latinos disproportionately feel like imposters because of negative stereotypes about their intelligence and capabilities. So if you are a person of color and a woman, it’s likely you felt this way before.
For first-generation college-goers, imposter syndrome can be especially acute.
As Keyli Motino explained to NBC News about her first year at college: “I found myself just like, ‘Do I really belong here?’ My confidence was just down on the floor.” As Black college student Kayla Kinsler told the same outlet: “I had no intentions of getting [into Brown University], like, at all … because it’s an Ivy League university, and the competition was so high. I just didn’t even see myself as having a chance at getting in.”
Cultural and structural factors have made many Latina and Black women the “first” in many spaces, whether that be higher education, white collar jobs, or in the C-suite. And since they haven’t seen others like them in their same position, they feel like at any moment, the other shoe is going to drop. They feel like they don’t deserve their success.
Considering that only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas are promoted for every 100 men, it’s no wonder that they feel like a fish out of water if they do get there.
The only way to overcome imposter syndrome is to remind yourself that you’ve gotten where you are for a reason. As author of “Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague,” Tali Lavarry told NBC News: “There’s no sense in you feeling like you are undeserving; you are in the room. Somehow, you got in there. I don’t care how it happened [or] if it was by chance. You are in the room. Work it. You belong there.”
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