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LGBTQ+ Community - Trying to Belong With Imposter Syndrome

3 minute read

We all feel we are not good enough at some point in our lives. Around 70% of adults have felt imposter syndrome during their lifetime according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, but LGBTQ+ workers, and in particular the trans community, are more likely to experience imposter syndrome because of poor inclusion.

By Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, Joanne Lockwood

Imposter syndrome occurs when we believe our success is not a result of our ability, but as a result of factors such as luck, good timing or coincidence. LGBTQ+ individuals may already experience inclusion issues at work which can trigger feelings of lack of competency and belonging, and a fear of not being worthy at work. The more marginalised, the worse the imposter syndrome may be and the more likely you are to feel you need to work twice as hard to ‘prove’ your value.

A number of additional stressors heighten imposter syndrome for LGBTQ+ workers who haven’t come out, such as the fear of being ‘found out’ or feeling the need to hide yourself by having a secret identity. Your own community may even create their own barrier to entry. For example, bisexual people often face questions as to whether they are gay enough to join. It is easy to get caught up in shame, humiliation, fear and rejection which go hand in hand with imposter syndrome.

When trans people look in the mirror they may suffer from Dysphoria and may not see the person they are inside staring back at them. There are a lot of internal and external pressures to have enough operations to meet society’s, your community’s and your own definition of gender norms. Every decision we make may be questioned from what we wear to which toilet we use, all of which can affect mental health and sense of belonging. We are constantly stuck in a place of feeling we are not good enough, that we are being watched and will never pass the test.

All of these reasons are why imposter syndrome is so prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community and why it manifests itself in anxiety and the belief that not only are you not worthy of the position you hold or success you attain, and that ultimately you will soon be ‘found out’ as being illegitimate and this fear will be confirmed by those around you.

How can business leaders help LGBTQ+ employees who may be suffering from imposter syndrome?

The Employer

Acknowledge it is a real problem.

Ways to overcome imposter syndrome starts with acknowledging its presence perhaps by discouraging negative small talk or the rejection of compliments. Don’t make assumptions that the other person can truly hear praise or know they deserve their promotion.

Show well-being is a business priority

When checking with an employee you are worried about, make sure to not just settle at “fine thanks, Show that well-being is a business priority. Listen, show compassion, and reassure, to help ease the pressure they may be experiencing.

None of us need to be a perfectionist

LGBTQ+ employees may feel the need to adopt a perfectionist mindset because they overly feel they need to prove themselves which can fuel the fear of failure. As part of healthy culture give your employees permission to fail safely and opportunities to improve.

Positive cultures. Safe space

Create opportunities for workers to address their fears so you can alleviate worries and help enable colleague to thrive. Tone and language are key.


The individual

Get a mentor

An informal arrangement with a mentor can be very helpful to share your problems around self-belief. Instead set up objectives to improve self-esteem and quieten your inner critic together.

Be specific in your need for feedback

Don’t benchmark yourself against unfair metrics and instead see how far you have come. Seek for 360 feedback and ask for specific reasoning from people you trust. Be kind to yourself.

Who are your people

Look at who affirms and encourages you. Consider who is in your inner circle of trust – are they positive influences or do they drain your positivity and ambition?

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