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Imposter syndrome and the Asian woman

August 31, 2022 by

“In our careers, we will likely experience a sense of imposter syndrome at some point. First, stop assuming you have imposter syndrome and assess yourself. Solutions includes support from friends, therapists and coaches,” advises organizational consultant and executive coach, Yon Na, PhD.

Photo: Pixabay

As an organizational consultant and coach, I have the opportunity to work with various clients at all levels in an organization from multiple dimensions of differences such as gender, race, and ethnicity. What’s surprising to me is that at some point during our interactions, clients will often describe where they are in their careers and describe a sense of having “imposter syndrome.” This psychological concept is related to a feeling that one’s career success is a result of luck or, in some instances, purely accidental. However, as an objective observer, I notice that clients attained their roles through dedication, persistence, and years of professional experience.

Complexities and reasons in experiencing Imposter Syndrome

The concept of “Imposter Syndrome” was coined by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in 1978. Research shows many causes: college students and women may experience this phenomenon more or be connected to one’s personality.

Interestingly, imposter syndrome may be tied to high achievers. The idea that imposter syndrome is tied to high-achievers sounds positive at first. But this is not the case. High-achievers tend to focus on the next big thing: projects, promotions, or other key events. The constant craving to achieve more can lead to stress and burnout.

Imposter Syndrome and the Asian woman

I initially thought that this phenomenon was rooted in someone’s cultural upbringing. For example, professionals of Asian-descent raised with the value of humility and the behavior of not bragging about their achievements might not fully “own” their success. Asian professionals might not embrace how their skills, knowledge, and work experience have contributed to their career journey to date.

As a woman, we are pressured to compete to earn our spot in organizational settings. Unfortunately, research shows that various stereotypes toward women of Asian-descent prevent advancement into leadership roles.

As a university student, we compete against peers to stand out. This is expected and part of the educational environment.

From a personality standpoint, if we grew up in an environment where we did not get sufficient acknowledgment from family or school, the result can negatively impact our self-concept, affecting how we view ourselves and show up in the world.

Solutions to overcoming Imposter Syndrome

First, stop assuming you have imposter syndrome and assess yourself. Dr. Clance developed the Clance IP Assessment, and as you read through the questions, you’ll gain greater insights into what it feels like to have imposter syndrome.

Next, if your assessment results show you are experiencing high levels of imposter syndrome, look for ways to support yourself:

Speak to a trusted colleague or friend (an important step)

  • Speak to a trusted colleague or friend about your feelings and do a “gut check.”
  • Comparing how you view yourself and other’s perceptions of you will be an eye-opening experience.
  • As Asian women, at times we can be overly critical of ourselves because we set high expectations. Our strong work ethic and our constant pursuit of excellence do not allow time for us to reflect on our achievements to date.

Talk to a therapist

  • Talk to a therapist if it seems that the feelings are rooted in your childhood experiences.
  • A mental health professional will help you explore potential limiting perceptions connected to your upbringing. As previously mentioned, our cultural values of deference to elders or humility can limit how we interact with our social environments.

Work with a qualified coach

  • Work with a coach to help you re-frame your values and beliefs, create goals, and identify concrete steps to correct yourself when you experience imposter syndrome.
  • A qualified coach can facilitate your thinking and brainstorm solutions with you to get over feelings of being “stuck.”

To learn more, go to Dr. Clance’s site and take the Imposter Syndrome Assessment.

Disclosure: MyAsianVoice is committed to publishing original and third-party content that is relevant and useful to the Asian female. The content posted are strictly the views of the experts’ or contributors’ own and does not reflect the views of MyAsianVoice.

Dr. Yon Na, PhD is an Organizational Psychologist, Researcher and Executive Coach with over 20 years of corporate experience in Leadership and Organization Development and Human Resources Management. Dr. Na has been passionate about changing the narrative about Asian women. Her main research area focuses on the experiences of Asian immigrant women and their journeys into corporate leadership.

Helpful Resources

Asian Women in Leadership with Dr. Yon Na, Phd

End Imposter Syndrome in Your Workplace (Harvard Business Review)

How Confidence Is Weaponized Against Women (Harvard Business Review)

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