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Ruchika Tulshyan is the author of Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work (MIT Press). She’s also the founder of Candour, an inclusion[…]

Imposter syndrome has a long-term, damaging impact on people in the workforce, particularly women of color.

To improve inclusivity in the workplace, Ruchika Tulshyan recommends six interpersonal habits that she calls the BRIDGE framework:

  • Be okay with being uncomfortable.
  • Reflect on what you don’t know.
  • Invite feedback.
  • Defensiveness doesn’t help.
  • Grow from mistakes.
  • Expect that change takes time.

RUCHIKA TULSHYAN: It has been pathologized, it has been called a syndrome, and it has largely been put on women to fix. When women of color are constantly told, "You have imposter syndrome," or, "You don't belong here," or, "What you bring to this workplace, isn't gonna be recognized unless you change and you conform to what we tell you professionalism looks like." It has an extremely long-term, damaging impact on both our sense of selves as well as how much we feel we can progress in the workplace. 

Hi, I'm Ruchika Tulshyan, I am the CEO and Founder of Candor, a global inclusion strategy firm. And my most recent book is "Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work." 

I'm glad that "Lean In," the book published by Sheryl Sandberg, did bring to the fore the reality that women were not progressing at the same rate as men. Unfortunately, a lot of the messages in the book focused on women as individuals failing to rise up to the challenge of being ambitious, of advancing their careers, of turning down opportunities when they were presented to women. What it did is create this harmful narrative that the reason why we are not progressing in the workplace is because we are pulling ourselves out of the running. I really wanted to push back against this narrative that there was something individually in myself, and in other ambitious women I knew, that had us opting out of our careers because that just wasn't true, it wasn't consistent with my own experience even after I became a mother. And it wasn't consistent with what I was witnessing among, especially, ambitious women of color around me. 

For women of color, specifically, we straddle these worlds of being both hyper-visible and invisible. 'Hyper-visible,' most of the time, because we're the only, one of the few, one of the different. And being invisible, because we are not seen as leaders, or we're not often in roles of status and privilege and power. Most people who haven't had a shot to be represented in corporate cultures have actually been denied the opportunity because they were underestimated. I prefer the term 'underestimated' over underrepresented because a lot of the responsibility to be represented- for people of color- has been put on us. Underestimated changes the framing; it moves the responsibility away from the people who have been shut-out of the workforce, and it moves the responsibility towards those in, dominant groups. 

When you correctly estimate someone's ability, when you believe in them, when you can see that they have the potential to rise and to thrive, that's when you give them opportunities. But as we saw in the United States Supreme Court nomination hearings, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first-ever, Black female Supreme Court Justice, faced a huge amount of pushback, faced a huge amount of bias. Women in leadership positions constantly face 'Prove-It-Again Bias.' No matter how established you are, no matter how experienced you are, for women of color, you constantly have to reestablish your authority, and prove that you are good enough and that you belong. Even when, on paper, you are a stellar candidate. 

When I do this work and when I talk about these issues, it creates discomfort and a lot of that discomfort focuses on, 'Well, I'm a good person, I don't mean any harm, I don't have control over the past,' and 'I don't see anything wrong with the way that I'm behaving now.' There are a lot of leaders out there with great intentions. Now, unfortunately, the reality is if you are not inclusive on purpose, if you are not intentionally focused in every moment, you are not going to be able to achieve the type of aspirational, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging that you believe in. One of the ways that we can bridge our intentions behind being more inclusive, and actually the action to be more inclusive, is through this BRIDGE framework: Be okay with being uncomfortable. Reflect on what you don't know. Invite feedback. Defensiveness doesn't help. Grow from mistakes, and expect that change takes time. 

A lot of what the BRIDGE framework does is it invites more of us to reflect on the perspectives that perhaps we've held, especially around communities that are different than our own. To be okay with the discomfort, to really take inclusive action on purpose- a lot of the defensiveness is very human, and yet, we cannot let that defensiveness stop us. As a systems-thinker, what I would like to see is for more of us as leaders, as people in positions of power and influence to really push back against this idea that women of color have imposter syndrome, that women have imposter syndrome. And create a culture where everyone can bring their authentic and honest selves to work without feeling like we have to change, or we have the pressure to conform to a very specific system that wasn't built with us in mind.

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