Imposter Syndrome is damaging the American Economy
Imposter syndrome is the invisible hand that is blocking untapped talent from contributing to the American economic recovery. The upper echelons of the American business ecosystem can’t afford to be a white boy’s club in disguise any longer.
It’s time that we realized that human and financial capital are equally important. If we want to eradicate imposter syndrome and ensure everyone feels their seat at the table is well-deserved, then diversity metrics should be made public, just like earnings and revenue.
When I first came to America when I was 25 to attend Harvard Law School, I thought the world worked the way most people do. If you're smart, you go to a well-respected school, you graduate and then you get a great job.
The reality for many is far more complicated. In America, success is more about who you know not what you know. For Women, Latinx and Blacks, often struggling with imposter syndrome and a lack of family connections, getting to the top is a tougher climb than it should be.
This is damning for our culture; top businesses and institutions in America should ultimately reflect the diversity of the country. However, it is also causing a brain drain that is damaging to the economy. Credit Suisse recently reported that on average companies with a diverse workforce achieve an additional 3.5% compound growth.
So what’s stopping Latinx and Blacks, particularly women from those demographics, from making those connections and taking a seat at the top table of some of the biggest companies in America? 45% of women of color have found themselves to be the only person to represent their gender in the workforce. Yet this is about far more than the stereotypical middle-manager consciously discriminating against minorities and promoting his own. Issues of diversity are far more complex than this.
Many Women, Latinos, and Blacks never even bother applying to top positions because they suffer from imposter syndrome. In their book ‘The Impostor Phenomenon Among High Achieving Women’, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes define this as ‘an internal experience of intellectual phoniness’ which they add ‘appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.’
A study by Heriot-Watt University and the School For CEOs backs this up, suggesting that more than half of women feel like imposters compared with 24% of men. Another study by McKinsey suggested that for every 100 men that are promoted, only 71 Latinx women get promoted whilst just 3% of women of color occupy the top c-positions in a company.
Imposter syndrome can also wreak havoc for those who’ve already made it through the door. Research reveals that racial identity is predictive of imposter syndrome among high-achieving minorities. A feeling of unworthiness can mean that you go out of your way to please your bosses and obsess over every little task. This is the reality of living with imposter syndrome that Latinx women feel every day.
By refusing to properly acknowledge the impact these issues have on the hiring culture in the top companies, America is missing out on the economic value that the Latinx community can bring to the table.
Some industries are doing better than others. Two-thirds of workers in the healthcare industry are female while a third are non-white. Education is also one of the most diverse industries with two-thirds of staff female.
However, in the most lucrative industries such as financial services, there is still a long way to go. Chicago is a great case study; whilst Latinx people account for 21% of the population they make up just 10 percent of financial services jobs and 2 percent of the top positions in finance.
It’s easy to think of diversity as a problem simply caused by greying men who want to preserve their elite boys’ club, and this is certainly part of the picture. However, complex psychological issues such as imposter syndrome play a part in preventing the Latinx community from applying to jobs in the first place and then going after the promotions they deserve. Our talent is only as good as our talent pool is deep; at the moment it is dangerously shallow.
A commitment to diversity could encourage companies to look more closely at the makeup of all tiers of their workforce to ensure they properly represent America in 2022. In doing so, we can unleash the full potential of the economy as we head out of the pandemic.