On the 21st of July, Women in Big Data released an advocacy report aptly titled The Data Revolution: Building the Workforce of the Future. Amongst the various topics that the report touches on is workforce bias in data-related fields and the steady decline in the number of women in computing occupations since 1991 when it peaked at 36% and quite arguably, one of the factors attributing to this decline is the Imposter Syndrome.
Having run a poll on Instagram to see how many women had experienced imposter syndrome in the different professional spaces, the Women in Big Data South Africa Chapter recently hosted an online panel discussion with Dr. Michele Ruiters and Steffi Barandereka Nineza to unpack what exactly is the imposter syndrome, its impact and how can we overcome it.
Originally coined by Dr. Pauline Clance, a clinician at Oberlin College, Imposter Syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It is a narrative that is common amongst women because of the gendered nature of most professions and the organisations within which we find ourselves. Women are always made to feel apologetic for being in the room, for being part of the team and even for having an opinion.
Although it is an internal narrative, there are environmental triggers such gender, race, age, socio-economic background, and culture that lead to us experiencing moments of profound doubt about whether we belong at the tables where we find ourselves seated. There is also the physiological aspect, the fight or flight response when we enter spaces that are unfamiliar or unfriendly, spaces that make us feel unsafe and needing to get out. This response is also a breeding ground for Imposter Syndrome because we feel like we do not belong.
Sadly, Imposter Syndrome may lead to the development of a number of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression because we can feel the need to overcompensate by overworking ourselves and pushing ourselves to extremes. The impact of the syndrome is quite negative on our wellbeing, creating challenges in our growth as professionals and how we evolve in the spaces within which we find ourselves.
In building the workforce of the future, we must find ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome—ways that move past individuals simply affirming themselves positively. We must advocate for the creation of workplaces with gender equity, workplaces that give meaningful support to women through conscious leadership and an enabling environment.
We must be better allies for one another, using the allyship as a strategic mechanism to fight injustice and promote equity in the workplace; only then can we o revolutionise the participation of women in date-related fields.