How can I overcome biases in my field and prove my knowledge and expertise?

I don't think I'm taken as seriously as other entrepreneurs because I'm a black woman with mental illness. How can I overcome impostor syndrome and prove to others that what I offer is valuable.


Unfortunately implicit bias is a reality which exists with regards to race, and lots of other things including height, voice, weight, sex, etc. While society is slowly learning and trying to suppress those biases, they will always exist to some extent, because they're derived from some of the fundamental neural mechanisms by which the brain learns (i.e. generalizations and correlations).

To get past these biases you have to "get your foot in the door" of people minds, to get to the point where you have the opportunity, and the time to demonstrate to them that their biased feelings about you are incorrect. Here's what I'd recommend:

1) Find people or organizations that are unbiased. There are plenty of people with less, or no bias, and some that may even have a bias that works in your favor. Work your way up in these circles, getting the most prestigious jobs and associations that you can by doing quality work and showing your value. Build a reputation and get personal referrals from them to make it easier to get your foot in the door with more biased people later on if needed.

2) When dealing with biased people, don't walk into situations with the mindset of "I'm a black woman with mental illness", walk into them thinking, "I'm the right person for this and I'm going to prove it". You may have to do more work than others, but realize that that means that you have to be stronger than the average person to get past them. Be proud of the fact that you're getting stronger than others, instead of feeling sorry for yourself about it.

3) Once you have built up that reputation, you could start making your personal characteristics part of your "personal brand". Be openly proud about being a black woman with mental illness that's built a reputation and gained success. Put it on your webpage, write a book, blog, do interviews, etc.

Note: I'm a white male, but I have a background in neuroscience and psychology and I've experienced and witnessed bias too. I wouldn't directly compare any of my experiences to yours, but hopefully my suggestions might be helpful,



Answered 7 years ago

My advice is to start publishing. It won't be easy, and it's quite possible some people will continue to brush you off, but if you keep putting valuable content out there you'll find your audience (that will LOVE you).

Try Medium and LinkedIn for blogging, and YouTube for any video content.

Stick with it and good things will eventually happen. As Steve Martin would say, "be so good they can't ignore you." Best of luck to you!

Answered 7 years ago

Unfortunately implicit racial bias is still very present today. However I'd encourage you to change your point of focus - take your energy, talent, and wisdom and pour that into your product and company. You should spend very little time or concern trying to win over others in your industry - your main focus as an entrepreneur is to win over your customer. The vast majority of customers will care more about your product than your personal background - build a product they cannot say no to. Lastly, you can not afford to doubt yourself. Most of the world will tell you that you can't, you cannot be one of those voices. You believe your own voice more than anyone else's on the planet so be sure that you're your biggest believer.

Answered 7 years ago

As a black woman (without mental illness) who owns a business, I can tell you: You're never going to overcome impostor syndrome until rid yourself of the feeling that you're doing something you shouldn't be, that you're getting something you don't deserve, or that you're cheating others. This is a debilitating mindset that will only exacerbate mental illness.

How do your clients see you--not your potential clients or the wide market out there, but the clients you have worked with? If they see you as their hero, that's who you are to the world, and that's all that matters for the purpose of your brand. Distance yourself from people who think of you as "a black woman with a mental illness." That may be part of you, but it's not part of your brand.

Ask for testimonials and referrals from happy clients. The testimonials will do a lot to alleviate your impostor syndrome, give you a bright picture of what you're capable of, and provide the positive vocabulary you need to describe yourself and your business to start. The referrals will give you the opportunity to repeat successes and build on that confidence.

To build your expertise, start with branding. Formulate a way to express your unique point of view. Not your product or service, but its angle, story, or purpose. Make sure it jibes with the market you're in. It doesn't have to be game changing, but it should get the attention of the people you're interested in working with. No one else matters.

Spread the word about your unique point of view--again, not your service necessarily, just your idea. Elaborate on it and make it a part of your brand. You'll eventually want to publish something (can be a book, but can also be a blog, video series, and/or podcast) that establishes you as the source for this particular approach to your industry's challenges.

Online, this involves engaging on social media. Offline it involves living your unique approach in as much of your business activities as it applies to.

So you'll need to know where to find the people you want to communicate with and how best to convey your ideas. When you find them, build and maintain relationships with them. These people (clients, prospects, fellow industry experts, influencers, and experts in related fields) will become your professional community, consisting of people who value your brand. They're a tremendous source of support whenever you start to get doubtful about your capabilities.

We (not only black women, but all disadvantaged individuals--and even people who aren't disadvantaged but have sabotaged themselves socially or mentally) tend to think we need to meet a bar to prove ourselves first and be successful second. In reality, no one can prove themselves until they're successful.

So if there's something you perceive as a "bar" in the arena you want to play in--be it education, industry experience, network connections, etc.--that you haven't acquired at the level others you admire have, ask yourself: "Have I succeeded (i.e. reached my goals on my timetable) without it so far?" If so, you probably don't need it. If not, you probably still don't need it--you just need to adjust your strategy.

None of the above "bars" stopped others in your position, who worked creatively to achieve their dreams without them. Not saying those things don't matter, just that you shouldn't give up because you don't have them. Remember: your goal is to live your dream, not be recognized for living it.

I'd be happy to take a call if you'd like to work on formulating your brand strategy and authority platform.

Answered 7 years ago

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