Just Freaking Own It Already: Being a Woman of Color with Impostor Syndrome

By on December 17th, 2018 in Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

Originally published on LinkedIn by our Director of PMO, Antonia Wong.

This week I was an attendee and speaker at InsideARM’s inaugural Women in Consumer Finance conference in Baltimore, Maryland. My panel was called  Just Freaking Own it Already and we each shared a story about our experience with Impostor Syndrome.  

If you’ve ever had moments of self-doubt or bouts of Impostor Syndrome then what I am about to share will sound familiar.  Impostor Syndrome is that nagging feeling that at any moment your boss will tap you on the shoulder and admit they’ve made a mistake by putting you in the role. It’s the inner voice that convinces you that your role should have gone to someone else…perhaps someone more capable. Yep, that’s the feeling, and it can affect even the most competent and confident people.  I have experienced these feelings both as a woman and as a person of color.

Throughout my career, there have been instances where I’ve felt like an outsider. Feeling like the odd one out can be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t mean you don’t belong there. Impostor Syndrome can actually inspire and motivate once you figure out how to harness it.  Several years ago, I was hired at an international firm based in San Francisco. I was beyond excited and so ready to crush it. After about a month or so I could tell my colleagues really liked my work, but something was off. I didn’t feel fully accepted and I couldn’t figure out why. Once I started to pay attention, I noticed subtle hints that my “look” didn’t fit the status quo. I was unaware I had a “look”. Suddenly, I felt different. Like, the wrong kind of different. I wasn’t one of them and they knew it before I did. I was an Impostor. During my time there, people consistently commented on my hair and a managing partner even joked one day that my curly hair looked like party hair. Another person said people probably wouldn’t mess with me because I wore hoop earrings. I was called “exotic-looking” and also asked if I was born in the US. A different managing partner warned me of a parasite that “a lot of Asian people have.”

In my attempt to be taken seriously and not miss opportunities I did something that today’s me deeply regrets. I started to change. I began straightening my hair. My hoops changed to studs. I swapped out my bold lipstick for something more subtle and stuck to a muted palette for clothing. I even spoke differently. First I did this for interviews, then for meetings, and then it was like I had split myself in two. I had convinced myself that I was still me (on the weekends). I didn’t want to change. I just didn’t know how to adapt and frankly I had nobody to ask. It took some years to realize that my real opportunity was just freaking owning it already and being unapologetic about who I actually am- why should I be the one to adapt?  My experience as a woman of color in corporate America isn’t unique and being authentic has allowed me to hear others’ stories and understand the work it will take from each of us to shift things.

So how do we do it? What I have learned is that we need representation, strong representation, of everyone at every level. You have to see it to be it. When people feel included they are better to work with. Here are 5 tips:

  1. Be authentic. It is easier said than done, but it will always be the right thing to do. When you let your light shine you give others permission to do the same.
  2. Be the person at work that inspires courage and has a reputation for being effective and keeping it real.
  3. Mentor the junior women and men in your company, it doesn’t have to be formal.  Give feedback, encourage them to level up, find ways to give them access to opportunities and make time to advocate for their success. Find someone to do this for you too.
  4. Make a pact with yourself to never bring your talents and your gifts to a company that doesn’t allow you to be you. When I was promoted to Director of Project Management, I had a moment of self-doubt that quickly course corrected. I had had a no-nonsense reputation for getting things done and after the promotion thought to myself: I’m an executive now, I should probably be more chill. My CEO noticed me dialing it back and promptly gave me feedback. He said “We gave you this role because of your personality, not in spite of it.”  I work for a company that not only allows me to be me, they demand it. When you’re looking for your next role, do your research, ask questions, look at their c-suite team and board members to make sure there is representation, read reviews, ask for their Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, ask how they will help people grow. If they can’t answer these questions, it’s not the right place for you.
  5. Networking: It can be much more than small talk and random Linkedin adds. Networking is a great way to get inspiration, guidance, mentorship, future jobs, public speaking engagements, and other opportunities. Put yourself out there in the spirit of growth, development, and sometimes free drinks.

Antonia Wong is the Director of Project Management and the Diversity and Inclusion Chair at TrueAccord in San Francisco, CA. twitter: @toniacaponia | linkedin: /antoniawong/

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