‘I am never good enough’: Supporting LGBTQ+ employees with imposter syndromeby
Imposter syndrome is especially rife among LGBTQ+ workers – how can you help those affected employees see their worth?
We all suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in our lives, but when it is left to grow it can adversely affect mental health and culture, and will impact the bottom line. Up to 70% of adults have felt imposter syndrome at some point in their life according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, but LGBTQ+ workers, and in particular the trans community, are at increased risk.
Imposter syndrome occurs when we feel our success is not a result of our ability, but perhaps luck, timing or a coincidence. Barriers to inclusion and having a sense of not belonging means many LGBTQ+ people may be suffering from a fear of not being competent or worthy enough at work and that we are being watched and will never pass the test. The more marginalised you are the more heightened your imposter syndrome and the more likely you are to feel you need to work twice as hard to ‘prove’ your value.
Dysphoria for trans people is another key factor because when you look in the mirror you may not see the person you are inside
What are the stressors for imposter syndrome?
- The fear of being ‘found out’ can quickly become all-consuming and feeling the need to hide yourself by having a secret identity heightens imposter syndrome
- Equally sharing your sexual orientation or gender identity with work colleagues is often a daunting task. When people come out they may still be living two lives to cover up their sexuality in certain situations and fear stepping into another lane
- Dysphoria for trans people is another key factor because when you look in the mirror you may not see the person you are inside. Maybe you don’t have enough of a beard or have too high a voice to feel authentically male. Maybe your hips aren’t wide enough, or you don’t have delicate enough features to believe you ‘pass’ as female
- There is a lot of internal pressure (and external) to have enough operations so you can accept yourself and are able to meet society’s definition of gender norms. At work, am I female enough to be in this group, can I relax with my team? Do I meet the group dynamic enough to fit in with the group?
- Transgender people can amplify the problems between them with pressure to be ‘truly trans’ you need to have had enough medical intervention. Equally, when you are gay you can be questioned by your own community who create their own barrier to entry – are you gay enough? There is a lot of stigma for bisexual people for example
- It is also regularly inferred that perhaps being trans is just a phase or perhaps we are confusing sexuality and gender. This has a huge impact on your mental health and your sense of belonging
- Then there is the dreaded toilet issue. Is someone going to tell me I am in the wrong place – do I blend in enough? Do people think I am still a bloke in a dress or is someone else a misguided butch lesbian?
Whatever the situation, there is often stigma, fear, humiliation, and rejection around not being good enough which is why imposter syndrome is so prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community.
How can employees help themselves if they suffer from imposter syndrome?
1. Who is in your inner circle of trust?
Identifying people who affirm and encourage you is essential when trying to build up self-confidence. Consider whom you have allowed into your inner circle of trust – are they positive influences or do they drain your optimism and ambition?
Seek 360 feedback from people you trust
2. Get a mentor
Having a mentor is really helpful when your inner critic is hard to ignore. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal arrangement. Sharing your problems around self-belief means together you can set up objectives to improve self-esteem and quieten your inner critic.
3. Ask for feedback and listen to the positives
Seek 360 feedback from people you trust. Perhaps benchmark yourself against different metrics on last year, not last week and see how far you have come. Rather than accepting ambiguous compliments or affirmations, ask them to be specific in their reasoning.
Interested in this topic? Read imposter syndrome is holding women back.
Joanne Lockwood is the founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen, a diversity, inclusion & belonging practice with a specialism in providing Transgender Awareness and support to organisations and businesses.