How Covering and Imposter Syndrome Overlap—And Cost You Money

All the energy that goes into covering and struggling with impostor syndrome reduces productivity. Learn how organizations can reduce the time lost by doing one thing: encouraging authenticity.

Imposter syndrome is feeling like you’re not qualified. Covering is hiding parts of yourself for acceptance. The overlap is the fear that everyone will find out.

That kind of worry keeps people:

  • Afraid to ask questions and doing poor work without the right information.
  • Stuck in one place, unwilling to try new things.
  • Too anxious to think creatively.

All the energy that goes into covering and struggling with impostor syndrome reduces productivity, according to experts from CompTIA’s Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Community.

Can you update your company culture to reduce covering and imposter syndrome? The experts say it’s possible.

What is Covering? 

“Covering is when people hide parts of themselves to either fit in better in the workplace or to assimilate to some kind of established norms in a company culture,” said Susanne Tedrick, Microsoft Azure infrastructure specialist who wrote “Women of Color in Tech,” a book to inform and inspire women of color to pursue tech careers.

In “Uncovering Talent: A New Model of Inclusion,” more than half of those surveyed by Deloitte (61%) said they’ve covered in one way or another at work, a distraction from being fully engaged.

Tedrick said covering can look a lot of ways, including:

  • Altering your appearance to fit in with main group.
  • Disassociating from behaviors negatively attributed to people’s ethnic or cultural identities.
  • Avoiding contact with members from other groups.
  • Keeping quiet instead of speaking up for your group identity.

Covering happens when people don’t feel comfortable being themselves at work, and that can usually be traced back to the company culture.

“It's usually minoritized groups who are covering in a situation where the leadership has established either explicitly or implicitly that a certain element of their identity is not welcomed in the work,” said Tedrick, who spoke with Sage Franch, Crescendo DEI, Founder and CEO, at ChannelCon 2021 about how to get employees around their anxieties and keep companies accountable for their culture. “That kind of thing is more common than most people actually realize.”

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is something that can happen to anyone, and it shows up in a lot of different ways. It’s another way of hiding, keeping yourself out of the spotlight so no one will discover your shortcomings, and even people with impressive tech careers can feel like they’re faking it.

“Early in my career (and sometimes to this day), I experienced impostor syndrome because I didn’t have a technical background. This left me feeling less than and there were a few negative interactions early on that amplified it, but I’m glad I didn’t give up,” said Kacey Short, program manager, Diversity and Inclusion at Tinder.

If she could, she’d tell her younger self to address the imposter syndrome head on. “There will always be people who put you down or question your abilities but they’re part of the journey to finding who you are,” she said.

Save Lost Time Related to Covering and Imposter Syndrome

The tech industry benefits more from letting people be themselves than forcing people into neat—and undistinguishable—boxes, Tedrick said.

“Aside from the precious energy that both imposter syndrome and covering can take away, I can only imagine the efficiencies gained, innovation opportunities created, or relationships developed and deepened if we all just felt like we can be who we are without judgement,” Tedrick said. “There is a real opportunity cost—for companies and people alike.”

Your organization can reduce the time lost to covering and impostor syndrome by doing one thing: encouraging authenticity. Pass the message that it’s okay to bring your whole self to work. According to Deloitte, here are three ways you can do that in your organization: 

  1. Create intentional speaking opportunities.
  2. Encourage and model authentic behavior.
  3. Share your story and ask others to do the same.

For advice on how to implement those strategies, tune in to the Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity (ATTD) Community. The collaborative group develops resources and best practices related to developing an inclusive workforce culture, one that’s capable of filling the pipeline for current and future technology careers.

Need to start right now? Download the Diversity and Inclusion Plan for Technology SMBs and get an analysis of your own business going.

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