Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Women always told they have the imposter syndrome

Most Batswana believe that behind every successful woman, there is a sex for job favours scandal. That men rise through their own steam while women depend on “thigh power”, and thereby hangs the tale that genders the imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. It makes one question whether they’re deserving of accolades.

Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says, “Societal and cultural gender biases and expectations of women’s behaviour, rather than female low self-esteem, may have more to do with workplace inequalities, Women are called difficult or unreasonable when they demonstrate the same confidence and ambition because the rules for success and competence are decidedly written by men. Women in the workplace are penalised more for demonstrating the same confidence as their male counterparts. Women leaders are often pressured to be nice and warm (normative feminine traits) but also assertive and decisive (stereotypical masculine behaviours). This creates a double bind for women aspiring to leadership as they are viewed as either competent but aggressive, or non-competent but likeable. Navigating this tension can be a huge mental burden and a source of anxiety and stress.”

The imposter phenomenon is gendered by showing that women on average show stronger levels of imposter feelings than men, Feelings of depression and anxiety often accompany impostor feelings—further ringing true to the imposter phenomenon’s relevance to psychological well-being. The label of imposter syndrome is a heavy load to bear. “Imposter” brings a tinge of criminal fraudulence to the feeling of simply being unsure or anxious about joining a new team jobwise or learning a new skill. Add to that the medical undertone of “syndrome,” which recalls “female hysteria”. Although feelings of uncertainty are an expected and normal part of professional life, women who experience them are deemed to suffer from imposter syndrome. Even if women demonstrate strength, ambition, and resilience, their daily battles with micro-aggressions, especially expectations and assumptions formed by stereotypes often push them down.. Imposter syndrome takes on a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing, and mild anxiety in the workplace and has been placed on women. As men progress, their feelings of doubt usually lessen as their work and intelligence are validated over time. They are able to find role models who are like them, and rarely do others question their competence, contributions, or leadership style. Women experience the opposite. Often times, confidence is falsely equated with the type shown by male leaders, with competence and leadership. The same systems that reward confidence in male leaders, even if they are incompetent, punish women for lacking confidence, for showing too much of it, and for demonstrating it in a way that is deemed unacceptable. These biases are insidious and stem from narrow definitions of acceptable behaviour drawn from male models of leadership.

Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Imposter feelings represent a conflict between your own self-perception and the way others perceive you. Even as others praise your talents, you write off your successes to timing and good luck. You don’t believe you earned them on your own merits, and you fear others will eventually realize the same thing. Consequently, you pressure yourself to work harder in order to keep others from recognizing your shortcomings or failures, become worthy of roles you believe you don’t deserve and make up for what you consider your lack of intelligence. The work you put in can keep the cycle going. Your further accomplishments don’t reassure you but in actual fact you consider them nothing more than the product of your efforts to maintain the “illusion” of your success. Any recognition you earn? You call it sympathy or pity. And despite linking your accomplishments to chance, you take on all the blame for any mistakes you make. Even minor errors reinforce your belief in your lack of intelligence and ability.”

Often, women feel they have to work twice as hard as men to be recognized in the workplace, and for women career advancement can be even more difficult. Labelling these feelings as characteristics of “imposter syndrome” only serves to dismiss their causes. If you are ever feeling like an ‘imposter’, it means you have experienced some degree of success in your life that you are attributing to luck. Turning those feelings into gratitude can work towards people feeling grateful for what they have achieved in their lives and less pressurised. Experiencing imposter syndrome can lead to a vicious cycle of stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame and even depression. In fact, feelings of being an imposter are a stronger predictor of mental health problems than is stress related to one’s minority status.


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