When I attended Brown University there were much more people of my skin color working as janitors and cafeteria staff than students. After moving to San Francisco it was even worse. Now the majority of black and brown people I saw were homeless. These situations forced me to ask myself the same question over and over again. Do I belong here? It took me longer than I’m proud to admit, but I finally came to the conclusion that not only do I absolutely belong, but me staying here has never been more important. There is actually a name for what I was feeling. Its called imposter syndrome and a significant amount of people of all backgrounds reportedly experience it as well.
You may be experiencing imposter syndrome if you are a high achieving individual who regularly second guesses their experience and accomplishments and constantly fear people will uncover you as a fraud. So... the exact opposite of whatever Donald Trump has.
When I was first started my professional career I noticed a pattern in the hiring practices at the company I worked for. Whatever race the hiring manager was made up the majority of his or her staff. The QA manager was from India and almost all his employees where Indian. The engineering lead was Chinese and the majority of his employees where East Asian. Another department had a white male lead and all his employees where young blond girls… I never found out how obvious this looked to everyone else, but it seemed to me that I was an exception to this rule. Instead of seeing it as an achievement I always felt like maybe someone had made a mistake. Was it my white sounding name? Did people just not realize I was black? Was it some kind of affirmative action thing? I don’t know. It wasn’t until much later in my career that I found out about imposter syndrome and it put a name to my fears and help me combat them.
I discovered a great way to combat my imposter anxiety is to review my resume or Linkedin profile. It is a great reminder of all I have achieved and it stands in the face of any doubts I had about what I am capable of. Also remember, no one is perfect! We tend to think the smartest people have all the answers, but in reality they don’t. No one does! The key is knowing your boundaries and being ok with saying “I don’t know.”
It is important for us to talk about imposter syndrome especially in black and brown communities because I believe it is why so many black and brown engineers study computer science and engineering but do not pursue careers in those fields. We are fighting a not only an outward battle with people around us for a right to be here, but also an internal battle with ourselves. This is caused by years of exposure to traditional stereotypes of gangsters, homeless people and welfare divas.
We deserve to be here! We deserved a spot at the table and don’t let your fears tell you any different.