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Joanne Lockwood

SEE Change Happen Ltd

Inclusion and Belonging Specialist

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LGBTQ+ imposter syndrome: Turn ‘I am not good enough’ into ‘I am totally worthy’

With the right strategies in place, L&D can help employees banish imposter syndrome
a planetary object in the sky with stars. Theory

According to the  International Journal of Behavioral Science, up to 70% of adults have been victims of imposter syndrome at some point in their life. However, LGBTQ+ workers, and in particular the trans community, are at increased risk. And while many of us can get past the feelings of invalidity, for some it can become all-consuming and adversely affect mental health, organisational culture and even impact the bottom line.

The fear of being ‘found out’ can quickly become all-consuming

The condition occurs when we feel our success is simply down to good timing, coincidence or luck and not a result of hard work or ability. For many LGBTQ+ people, there are already barriers to inclusion that they need to deal with so they may find themselves particularly prone to imposter syndrome. This persistent fear of not being competent or worthy enough at work or that we are being watched and will never pass the test can be debilitating.

There are numerous stressors that add to imposter syndrome

  • The fear of being ‘found out’ can quickly become all-consuming and feeling the need to hide yourself by having a secret identity heightens imposter syndrome
  • Equally sharing your sexual orientation or gender identity with work colleagues is often a daunting task. When people come out they may still be living two lives to cover up their sexuality in certain situations and fear stepping into another lane
  • Dysphoria for trans people is another key factor because when you look in the mirror you may not see the person you are inside. Maybe you don’t have enough of a beard or have too high a voice to feel authentically male.  Maybe your hips aren’t wide enough, or you don’t have delicate enough features to believe you ‘pass’ as female
  • There is a lot of internal pressure (and external) to have enough operations so you can accept yourself and are able to meet society’s definition of gender norms. At work, am I female enough to be in this group, can I relax with my team? Do I meet the group dynamic enough to fit in with the group?  
  • Transgender people can amplify the problems between them with pressure to be ‘truly trans’ you need to have had enough medical intervention.  Equally, when you are gay you can be questioned by your own community who create their own barrier to entry – are you gay enough? There is a lot of stigma for bisexual people for example
  • It is also regularly inferred that perhaps being trans is just a phase or perhaps we are confusing sexuality and gender. This has a huge impact on your mental health and your sense of belonging
  • Then there is the dreaded toilet issue. Is someone going to tell me I am in the wrong place – do I blend in enough? Do people think I am still a bloke in a dress or is someone else a misguided butch lesbian? 

Whatever the situation, there is often stigma, fear, humiliation, and rejection around not being good enough which is why imposter syndrome is so prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community.  

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome and its implications is to acknowledge its presence

What can L&D do?

How then can leaders and trainers ensure that their LGBTQ+ employees are valued and imposter syndrome is knocked on the head?

Don’t settle for 'I’m ok'

If you notice a change in any of your employees, be it subtle or obvious and are concerned about their confidence, make sure to not just settle at 'fine thanks' when checking in. Asking regularly if your employees are really okay is vital to creating a positive and affirming workplace where well-being is a priority. Listen, show compassion, and reassure, to help ease the pressure they may be experiencing.

Avoid assumptions

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome and its implications is to acknowledge its presence. Ways to do this may be to discourage negative small talk or the rejection of compliments. Rather than assuming that the individual is proud of themselves following a promotion, stop to ask what their initial response is and note if they have any doubts or questions preceding any kind of celebration.

Don’t ask anyone to strive for perfectionism 

One of the most common manifestations of imposter syndrome is perfectionism. LGBTQ+ employees will often feel the need to prove themselves to a greater degree and in turn adopt a perfectionist mindset.  This however can often fuel the fear of failure. Instead, give your employees permission to fail without repercussions and opportunities to improve as part of healthy growth.

Maintaining an open dialogue with your employees is essential so you can get closer to the root cause

Psychological safety is key

Maintaining an open dialogue with your employees is essential so you can get closer to the root cause, establish an environment of psychological safety and work on a strategy to manage the issues. Create opportunities for people to address their fears to alleviate worries and help colleagues to thrive. Tone and language determine the environment and the attitudes.  

Interested in this topic? Read Why is imposter syndrome plaguing women?

Author Profile Picture
Joanne Lockwood

Inclusion and Belonging Specialist

Read more from Joanne Lockwood

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