June 9, 2022

Professional Women Rising: Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

Ashley Udell
June 9, 2022

Professional Women Rising: Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

Ashley Udell

When I first saw Spreetail’s Inclusion Network, Professional Women Rising (PWR), was looking for volunteers to write a blog post I immediately pursued the opportunity. I logged in, submitted my idea, and didn’t think about it again. That was until I saw an email come in saying they thought my topic was great and what the next steps would look like. Now I’ll be honest with you. As soon as I got that email, I read the first two lines and immediately closed my laptop. Panic had officially set in. I wanted to email back and say she had made a mistake. Did she email the right person? Ashley is a common name, maybe she didn’t realize she’d sent it to the wrong one. Surely, she knows I’m only 26 and some days barely feel like a real adult. Does she know that I still Google “effect vs affect?” Maybe I should inform her English isn’t my first language, so I just throw commas in when it feels right. Two hours later I decided to go back and finish reading the email. To my surprise, she had sent it to the right person.

Fast forward two weeks and it was the night before my first draft was due and I still hadn’t typed anything. If you’ve ever worked with me, you know this is completely out of character. I spent two weeks listening to videos, analyzing studies, and reading articles. Yet when I sat down, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t qualified enough to talk about imposter syndrome. I wasn’t accomplished enough in my career to talk to anyone about anything. I barely even felt qualified to attend half the meetings on my schedule. What I failed to realize was I wasn’t asked to be an expert. The email didn’t say please attach a Ph.D., three references, and a Nobel prize to be considered. She was just asking me to show up and do what I had signed up to do.

So why did I feel so inadequate?

Imposter syndrome is “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” According to Dr. Brian Daniel Norton, marginalized groups including women, women of color, particularly black women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome.

When reading about this topic, I repeatedly noticed researchers seemed to put the pressure of solving imposter syndrome on the individual experiencing it. Why did we leave it up to the individual to solve when they were already working to obtain a seat at the table? For our culture at Spreetail, I’d like to propose a different approach to the way we view imposter syndrome. Instead of telling people to believe in themselves, let's evaluate what we are doing to help eliminate imposter syndrome in the workplace.

There are three ways that Spreetail can minimize imposter syndrome: be honest about biases in the workplace, remain data-driven and focused on facts, and be open to feedback and change.

Recognizing Bias in the Workplace

Emily Hu, a clinical psychologist said, “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.” In 2021, the number of women on the Fortune 500 list hit an all-time high and 41 women ran those businesses. Of the 41, for the first time in history, two of those women were black women. Although it is something to celebrate, there is still a lot of work to do. So, what can Spreetail do?

One way that our team leaders can help to address bias in the workplace is by mindfully assessing their meetings. A study on meetings in corporate settings found that women participated 25% less than their male counterparts when meetings included more men than women. In that same study, 50% of women reported being interrupted at a higher rate than their male peers. It is crucial to our success at Spreetail that we remain mindful during our meetings. Team leaders can do so by asking themselves who are the predominant speakers in our meetings. Are we holding space for all our team members to speak openly without interruption? Are we inviting the correct people to our meetings? Simply looking over your meeting invite before sending it can help prevent someone feeling like they were simply an afterthought or that they were left off because they’re not as important.

Managers can help to address bias in the workplace by acknowledging and addressing their own biases. An important question to ask yourself is “Am I asking certain team members to prove themselves more than others?” In a case study, it was found that women, specifically women of color, are asked twice as often to prove the skills listed on their resumes versus their male counterparts. It was found that 42% of women were assigned to lower-level tasks that were considered “housekeeping” projects whereas their male colleagues were assigned to projects that led to networking and promotion opportunities. It is important that we acknowledge our subconscious biases to make Spreetail an inclusive and invigorating workplace for all.

Remaining Data-Driven

Spreetail sends out quarterly surveys to all employees to understand the needs, wants, and feelings of our team members. In a recent survey, we evaluated communication from our leaders by ranking the concept “The leaders at Spreetail keep us informed about what is happening.” This metric specifically stuck out to me. Feelings of being excluded or that information is being withheld from you can exasperate feelings of imposter syndrome. Historically, information was withheld as a means of keeping marginalized groups from prospering in our society.

In a workplace context, excluding someone from pertinent information can accelerate thoughts of not belonging or not being deserving of a position. To one person it may be as simple as forgetting to pass on information about a project you need volunteers for to one of your team members. To the person who was left out it may feel like “my leader didn’t inform me of the opportunity because they don’t think I’m capable/hardworking/smart enough to help.” Taking a minute to slow down in our fast-paced environment and think about others’ perspectives, skills, and mindsets could potentially help us to avoid adding to someone experiencing imposter syndrome. It could also help us to retain the abundant talent we already have. In a survey done by Working Mother Media, 50%, of women are planning to leave their jobs in the next two years due to feelings of exclusion.

Turning Feedback into Progress

Analyzing the feedback from employee surveys and applying it to the way we interact with our teams is crucial. For example, my manager began communicating all the projects he was working on. What keeps me at Spreetail isn’t the hybrid work model or all the free swag and fun events. It’s the commitment my manager makes to ensuring we have a weekly meeting to talk about my goals and any issues I’m running into at work. It’s the confidence he’s built within our team that if there’s an opportunity for an internal move or promotion, he’s going to encourage us to apply, and he’ll be there advocating for us every step of the way. It’s our team culture that he’s instilled, making sure we know that each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses and how we can each lean on each other to achieve a common goal. Most importantly it’s the way that he’s been vocal about his belief in equality regardless of age, sex, gender, or race. He then goes on to live that value every day.

In my research on imposter syndrome, there was one story that stood out to me that included Tupac. (I know. Tupac and imposter syndrome in the same sentence? Wild.) As the story goes, there was an actress that arrived to set and found out the person she would be acting alongside was Tupac. She had prior acting experience, but only in small roles. She had practiced for months to be able to land this role. Yet she was understandably nervous to be alongside a big celebrity. Seeing how quiet she seemed during rehearsal, Tupac turned to her and asked if she was nervous. She said yes then immediately began listing off reasons why she didn’t belong there with him. He then told her “Keep doing exactly what got you to this spot right here on this stage.”  

If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome there’s one thing I want you to know: you’re not an imposter for having self-doubt. Your feelings and experiences are all valid. It is not your sole responsibility to solve workplace exclusion. But it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that we include those around us and make sure our teammates know they are respected, valued, and supported.

Learn more about Spreetail's relentless pursuit of equity and equality and our Inclusion Networks, including Professional Women Rising (PWR), here.

Ashley Udell

Issue Prevent Specialist

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