GROWTH Community Contributor

Juliet Velazquez

I had a mentor and close friend once recommend I read the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It’s a great read if you haven’t had the time to check it out – many refer to it as a kind of handbook on the art of human interaction. In the 48 Laws of Power, the first law is “never outshine the master.” The lesson here is learning to become socially aware and learning to understand the personality, insecurity, and values of those in positions above you. If there’s anything I’ve learned working in this industry for almost 10 years is that the words “young” and “woman” are almost always equivalent to “threat.”

For those unfamiliar with the term “imposter syndrome,” it refers to doubting your abilities or feeling like a fraud at work. A study published in late 2021 and released by KPMG LLP, the U.S. audit, tax, and advisory firm, shared that 75% of executive women report having personally experienced imposter syndrome at a certain point in their career. In the study, imposter syndrome was defined as “the inability to believe your success is deserved as a result of your hard work and the fact you possess distinct skills, capabilities, and experiences.”

During the recent historic confirmation hearings, I found myself sitting in awe of how a woman, who for all intents and purposes is fully qualified to be nominated to the highest court of this country, could still be treated as though she couldn’t possibly deserve a seat at the table. Dare I mention she is perhaps even more qualified than all nine existing supreme court judges. And fortunately, while I think fondly of the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson, this isn’t even a matter of opinion; it is a fact. The Washington Post published a chart that helpfully outlines her notable experience, which you can find here. It appears that her capabilities have come into question because she is a strong black woman who has the audacity to be qualified enough to become a Supreme Court Justice nominee. Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat from the state of California summed it up well when he said, “This confirmation hearing has been a reminder — and in some ways, a new Exhibit A — that for people of color, particularly those who have the audacity to try to be the first, [they] often have to work twice as hard to get half the respect.” He is the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate.

Hearing her speak and defend those qualifications or prove her worth was such a familiar feeling that I couldn’t help but feel my stomach churn as I watched it. I slowly relived all of those moments I was talked down to, ignored, underestimated, and insulted. You’ll find my experience is not unique; many women I know have endured similar indifference well masked as glibness. Many times, I found myself having to lift my chin off the floor when hearing a colleague share her experience with a male client who directs his questions to her male colleague about work that she’s presented instead of addressing her directly. I’ve also had other women feel so threatened by my mere existence they had no other choice but to eliminate me from the equation. I’m sure we could fill books with the experiences we’ve had collectively, and yet it does not change. But I am a young Latina. This is the behavior I’ve learned to expect. And while men play a huge role in this, this is not a uniquely male problem. This is a heart problem. More specifically, an insecurity problem. When we feel as though we need to tear people down to feel better about ourselves, we must realize the issues lie within our own hearts and minds. There is room for others to succeed alongside us; we just have to make space for them.

So, I present you with a thought — that perhaps women’s imposter syndrome is simply a result of years of an almost pavlovian conditioning due to being doubted so many times that we begin to doubt ourselves. As a means for survival, women have learned how to work around this behavior. It’s no wonder women speak from a place of diffidence after a lifetime of having their qualifications questioned.

But women – we are qualified. And as qualified individuals, we cannot possibly be imposters.

Yes – those feelings you feel are real, but I assure you that they are rooted in others’ insecurities, and we cannot allow that to steal our joy or our power. Imposters do not feel shame about being in a role that they aren’t qualified for – we’ve all encountered someone who boldly flaunts a job they don’t deserve.

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So, let’s take ourselves off survival mode and stop giving our consent. There is progress to be made here by using our voices. The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals. Instead, we should use our voices and talents to create an environment that fosters different leadership styles and where diversity of racial, ethnic, and gender identities is viewed as just as professional as the current model. Let’s be boisterous and resolute in our pursuit of equality. For if we all go silent, the world would be worse off for it.

Juliet Velazquez is an Associate, Tourism and Destination Development at JLL Hotels & Hospitality.

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