Book a call

Put some RESPECT on it!

black women imposter syndrome pay gap women's history month Mar 28, 2023

Author: Alicia Wade (Co-Founder 5 Minute Career Hack)

The Gender pay gap report was published this month on Equal Pay Day, March 14th. The study found that Black Women earn $0.80 for every $1.00 a white man makes. The lifetime earning potential that is lost is sobering. 

What are the causes behind the pay gap?

Researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau set out to determine what variables contribute most to the #genderpaygap.  It turns out that about 70% of it is immeasurable (Fortune). This begs one to ask, then how can this be influenced? I scratched my head as well.

Tara Jaye Frank, the author of Waymakers, discusses how imposter syndrome (IS) looks different for black people. IS was coined by psychologists Suzanne A. Imes and Pauline R. Clance. IS is the experience of not feeling intelligent enough despite one’s achievements. People who suffer from imposter syndrome feel like frauds. Although it is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), this condition affects 70 percent of Americans. 

Frank shares her experience as a Black woman excelling in the workplace and the role imposter syndrome has played. She shared something that felt deeply relatable. She said Black leaders when we rise, we know how hard we worked to prove ourselves worthy. So, we don’t feel like frauds but that others see us as such and work to prove our worth. This burden of proof of worth stung but that is exactly what it is. I had not heard it articulated like this before, but it summed up how I and many Black Women feel. 

The idea of worth for black men and women is an incredibly complex subject. As we celebrate women’s history month, I wanted to take a moment to honor the many phenomenal women who have paved the way and created space so that today we can take up space. But I don’t know if we can do this without addressing the obstacles that persist. I wanted to pause for the cause and address how we can take up space. And at the same time acknowledge the burden of proof that is akin to this bold declaration for Black Women.

Although Black employees comprise 14 percent of all US employees, the Black workforce at the managerial level is just half of that at 7 percent. At senior-manager levels (vice president and senior vice president) it declines to 5 and 4 percent. (Race in the workplace: The Black experience in the US private sector)

According to findings compiled in a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, Black Women have been obtaining degrees at a consistently high rate for the last eight years and counting. In 2020, by race and gender Black Women were the most educated demographic in the United States.

Besides the pay disparities, the psychological toll career advancement has on Black Women is a hurdle in the workplace. According to Lean In’s study, The State of Black Women in Corporate America, 40% of Black Women feel the need to provide more evidence of their competence, compared to 14% of white men.

Why, you may ask?

We wonder if other people think we deserve it. People aren’t shy about asking how and why you are where you are. At every stage of my career, I have been asked, “How old are you?” What discipline did you get your degree in? Where are you from? On the surface, these questions may sound like someone is trying to get to know you but not when the person isn’t offering any details about themselves. In fact, I have had touch bases where I have been asked to share my background by less senior colleagues. Then when I ask the same, the subject was changed, and no details were shared, and you know why? Because they simply don’t feel they need to.

The constant state of creating a highlight reel for others of our top plays/contributions can be exhausting and this is how imposter syndrome can look for many people of color. The balance of duality and intersections of being Black and a woman is both art and science. We are taught that it is best to be gracious, modest, and humble but sometimes there are times the Birdman Breakfast Club interview, is the highlight that you want to play...Put Some Respect on My Name!

How do you respond when you are treated like an imposter?

1. Be aware of the first and only assignment: Being the only is often celebrated but we must balance the celebration with acknowledging the hardships that come with being the first.

So be prepared that you will have thoughts and moments of self-doubt but understand that there will be others after you. While this is hard and comes with its share of obstacles keep the bigger picture in mind. There will be many lonely days and times when you feel misunderstood or not understood at all. Be on assignment and be intentional to take up space.

2. Get busy accepting compliments: For the next 30 days, when you get a compliment say, "Thank you, I agree."

Don’t downplay what and how you do your job. It is unique and valuable. You may feel that you are expected to be humble, and you may be trying to manage perceptions but playing small and being modest won’t lighten the burden of proof, so be confident.

Practice owning the space your craft is creating for you. You can give others credit but don’t end there. You can say thank you and I found a peer who is inspiring me in this way then share their contribution as well but not at the cost of not acknowledging yourself.

3. Take up more space.

I am sure it is common practice for people to ask you how are you. I am certain this happens many times a day. Well, let’s reimagine this question as an opportunity to update others on some of the great things you have going on.

Why is this necessary? Do you get frustrated that others don’t acknowledge that you are a multi-dimensional person, have many ways you contribute to the workplace, and have more going than others may know? Well, add this simple hack: The next time you are asked how are you? Great and _____, add what you are celebrating. I joined a great webinar this month the @ELC hosted @Shehara Dowling gave this profound advice. While it may seem simple, remember the goal is effective, it doesn’t have to be whipped up.

So, this month as we honor the women in our lives #womenshistory, note the unique challenges each woman has and be sensitive to their relationship with worth.

To all the women: Be unwavering with knowing, reconnecting, and recommitting to your worth.

Get Salary Negotiations Essentials Course

How to grow your salary by 25-50% in the next 365 Days. Get Salary Negotiations Essentials Course

Enroll for FREE

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.