#awesomewomen of the world, reject your Impostor Syndrome
I have a theory - several, really - that stories about women not wanting to work with other women and women not wanting to report to women reflect the realities of power dynamics.
- When there are very few women in positions of power, we become “tokens” in the Moss Kanter sense:
Three perceptual phenomena are associated with tokens: visibility (tokens capture a disproportionate awareness share), polarization (differences between tokens and dominants are exaggerated), and assimilation (tokens’ attributes are distorted to fit preexisting generalizations about their social type). Visibility generates performance pressures; polarization leads dominants to heighten their group boundaries; and assimilation leads to the tokens’ role entrapment.
Put another way:
Given these factors, it is entirely rational for women to seek to align ourselves with those who hold power - i.e. men. A powerful male boss in what Moss Kanter calls “skewed groups” is significantly better positioned to be able (and willing) to lobby for his direct reports than a woman in the same context.
And given a) the prevalence of impostor syndrome among women b) the socialized tendency to apologize for no actual reason c) the pressure women feel to downplay perceived success d) the
fact that women sell ourselves short on team projects - prioritising working with each other appears, again, to be less than canny corporate strategy.
“I’ll never get promoted because she’s only looking out for herself” meets “I don’t deserve to get promoted anyway” and is supported by “the only way I’ll get a raise is if I spend more time with the boys” and, ah, ‘lizard brain’.
But here’s the thing. Women only stop being tokenized when there are enough of us to shift the group dynamic from “skewed” to “balanced”. And the one circumstance in which women don’t unduly attribute extra credit to others (to their own detriment) is when we are on teams comprised of…other women.
Chicken, meet egg.
There are significant structural challenges to overcome here - back we go to power dynamics, causes and consequences of - and I will not underplay these.
But I will suggest that when we are in positions of even the tiniest amount of privilege, when we are able to wrest back some of that power, we should challenge ourselves - yes, MOAR challenges - to overcome impostor syndrome. Let us reject the instinct to sell ourselves short. Let us bite our tongues before we blurt out, “I’m really not qualified to speak at the conference” or “Oh, why would they want to interview me? I’m not that interesting.”
Newsflash, ladies: boring, unqualified men are trotted out as fascinating experts all the time. All. The. Time. We will have made progress when women are also allowed to be boring and unqualified and nevertheless regularly appear on television. We shall not have attained equality until absolutely medicore developers who also happen to be women are routinely hired by buzzy startups. We should not rest until women you’ve never heard of, whose only achievement is being friends with the organizer, are giving keynotes at expensive conferences and no one bats an eye.
And until we are allowed to be bloody well ordinary thank you very much, let us deploy the IMPOSTER SYNDROME SIREN when we recognize the signs - in our sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters, cousins, friends, colleagues, direct reports and yes, our arch rivals.
Who’s with me?