BAME Equality has rightly been a core focus for businesses as we head out of lockdown. It has been wonderful to see so many business leaders talking about the actions they will be taking. But research shows there is one forgotten factor that is missing from the debate - and without addressing it, it could slow down or derail the progress we need to make.
Back in 2019, a landmark research study showed there were three core drivers in the gender pay gap and lack of gender equity for women in leadership roles in the UK. Two of the factors were related to company culture, but the third wasn't.
And, although it wasn't specifically designed to cover ethnicity, the depth interviews and quantitative survey comments from the research study, as well as subsequent interviews, showed that this third factor plays a huge role for BAME equality, and other minorities (e.g. socio-economic) as well.
Companies are - rightly - now putting in huge effort to raise awareness of unconscious bias (Sway - Unravelling Unconscious Bias - by Dr Pragya Agarwal is a great resource). They are looking at how their structures and culture need to change to create a genuinely level playing field. And things will change.
But unless we tackle the third factor - hidden and forgotten - will much change?
What Did The Research Show Is The Forgotten Factor In Both Gender And BAME Equality?
Defined as the fear of being 'found out' as not good enough or not belonging in the role you're in, Imposter Syndrome causes people to self-sabotage. They 'play small' - even in the light of evidence that they are more than competent. So a team member might seem outwardly confidant, but they wouldn't want you hearing their secret 3am self-talk.
And one of the things the research showed is that if you promote someone into a role where they don't feel they 'belong', Imposter Syndrome magnifies, potentially leading to performance and even mental health issues.
The research showed that 52% of female respondents and 49% of male respondents had struggled with Imposter Syndrome 'regularly' or 'daily' in the past year - at a level that affected their ability to perform their role and their confidence. With BAME respondents, those figures were even higher.
So we can create an external level playing field, work to remove our unconscious biases, and highlight BAME role models, but:
To truly have the impact that is needed, that level playing field needs to come from within, as well as the external culture.
Quotas can make things worse.
If someone is struggling with Imposter Syndrome, because they feel they 'only' got the promotion because the company needed to 'make up numbers'. The research study showed that if someone feels they are in a minority group (be it gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background), promotion can increase the incidence and severity of Imposter Syndrome by 25%. Whereas if they were promoted and felt the promotion was a 'good fit' for the 'kind of person they are', rates decreased by a third.
I have long argued that we need to focus on equity, not equality, to close the gender pay gap - the same goes for BAME equality.
Just as with gender equality, with BAME equality we need to support people with changes to the external culture, but we also need to be helping them to clear the subconscious blocks we put in our own way.
The 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study showed it causes people to:
All of these are subconscious behaviours that can sabotage even the best-intentioned equality programme.
So if we really mean it about BAME equality, we need to have training and mentoring in place to allow people to clear out any subconscious, self-imposed glass ceilings, while we work our socks off on creating the external level playing field.
Why Do So Few Companies Have Support In Place For Imposter Syndrome?
Because, unlike something like 'confidence' or 'Microsoft Office' skills, it's harder to spot Imposter Syndrome. Those who struggle with it will tell you how hard they work to hide it. They often feel like they are the only person who has it and this can trigger shame, which no one wants to go public about it.
Also, few managers have had training on how to spot the warning signs or how to support someone with Imposter Syndrome, other than telling them they're doing great and to get on with it - which unintentionally makes things worse.
The other reason why so few companies proactively support their staff to clear Imposter Syndrome is because many people have fallen for the internet myth that it is 'incurable' - something you have to 'put up with' or 'push on through'. Yet that isn't the case. There's a whole section on this and other keep-you-stuck myths in Ditching Imposter Syndrome.
With the right strategies and support, people can create breakthroughs in clearing Imposter Syndrome, so they can lead with courage, confidence and passion, in as little as 90 days.
Is This The Missing Link In Your BAME Equality Strategy?
If your company isn't proactively addressing Imposter Syndrome, it risks slowing down your work to create a truly equal opportunity workplace.
Q: what could you do today, to redress that balance?
After all, if people were born with the knowledge of how to set themselves free from something as painful as Imposter Syndrome, surely they'd have done it by now?
Ways I Can Help With Imposter Syndrome In Your BAME Equality Work:
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