Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

with Alicia Liu

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Social Inequity

Impostor Syndrome affects women and minorities more because of stereotype threat.

Alicia Liu

Software Engineer, Entrepreneur, Writer

Lessons Learned

Stereotype Threat: as the only minority, you try not to reinforce negative stereotypes in a group.

We all have biases, but how do you actually deal with them?

Affirmative action means you are just as qualified

Women and minorities have to overcome more obstacles along to way to get to the qualification.


Lesson: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome with Alicia Liu

Step #3 Social Inequity: Impostor Syndrome affects women and minorities more because of stereotype threat

A lot of the respondents were men saying that "Oh, men experience it too," which I thought was interesting because I obviously wrote the piece from my own personal experience as a woman, so it was interesting that all these men were going on and being like "Men experience it too. Don't forget about the men." It's like "Geez, go write your own post." But, I think it does affect women and minorities more because of stereotype threat.

So this is a thing where if you are the only person where you're the only woman, or the only Chinese person or black person, then you don't want to reinforce negative stereotypes within the group. I kind of talked about this in my post where if I don't understand some programming term or whatever I wouldn't ask about it because I don't want to be perceived as being dumb, or that I don't know about coding therefore reinforcing stereotypes about women not being technical or women not knowing what they're doing. I would just keep silent and hope that no one calls me out about it.

But now I don't do that anymore. Now I actually very much make an effort of always asking if I don't know and what happened was great. Often times the person saying the term or whatever may not know themselves or they may not be as well knowledgeable about it as they seem to be. So then you can have a discussion and talk more about it. Very often other people don't know either that are in that group so then you help increase everyone's understanding about that topic.

One diagram was actually very helpful, it should like the amount of math you need to know for computer science which is not actually that much, but it showed a graph. So studies have shown that men are better in math than women, but what that graph showed was that it's actually a two bell curves that are almost the same except the men have a bit more at the very edges. So like math prodigies come out of those ends, and it actually is typically related to other psychological disorders that men are actually genetically more likely to have.

But the cure in the middle is the same. I think basically it's all societal constructs, like there was one study that showed when girls had to put their gender down as the first thing on a math test that they did worse when they weren't reminded of their gender.

So there's huge bias and it's not just from the men, women have bias too. Like when they do those studies that demonstrate hidden bias, extremely, clearly, men and women are just as biased. I just want to put that out there. I have bias too. The thing to know though is how you actually deal with it. It's not just saying, "Oh well it's a pipeline issue. We're just not getting enough women so that's why we only have one or two women in this batch,” which is what a lot of people do.

Versus the correct way to deal with it is to acknowledge that you have hidden bias, that everyone has hidden bias and that women have had to deal with this bias every step of the way leading up to the point in which they're actually sitting in an investor meeting with you. So for men to say, "Oh well women only got in because they needed women to fill the quota." That's extremely unfair. First of all, affirmative action means you're just as qualified.

Also for a woman or minority to actually get to that stage where they can get in means that they've actually had to overcome a lot more hurdles and biases that others didn't have to. Are they more qualified? Yeah, probably. They are and they should be absolutely given that opportunity.

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