Let’s Talk About Imposter Syndrome in the Legal Profession

  • October 22, 2020
  • Thijiba Sinnathamby

An estimated 70 per cent of people experience feeling like an imposter at some point in their lives. While imposter syndrome affects everyone, women and in particular, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (“BIPOC”) women are uniquely affected by imposter syndrome. 

What is imposter syndrome?

The term refers to high-achieving, competent individuals who tend to minimize their accomplishments, attribute their success to luck, and fear being outed as a “fraud”. 

In my opinion, traditional views of imposter syndrome tend to neglect how racism and sexism often interlock and inform how many BIPOC women experience imposter syndrome. 

In conversations with BIPOC women lawyers, the sentiment is often the same: the legal profession leaves them with a pervasive feeling that they are not worthy of professional success. What do I mean by this? Take a look at the highest court in our land, the biggest firms in our country - who are the judges and the senior partners? Who are the decision-makers and the big players? Who do we consider as experts in a particular field of law? Who has a seat at the proverbial table? 

Navigating predominantly white or “exclusive spaces” is exhausting when coupled with facing gendered racial micro aggressions. In addition to combating racial stereotypes or attempting to fit into the “model minority” trope, attempting to achieve professional success requires that BIPOC women lawyers work twice as hard to “prove” themselves in comparison to their white colleagues. As such, the way we understand and discuss imposter syndrome has to account for these different social realities. 

While our profession has a long way to go before BIPOC women lawyers feel truly included in the profession, here are some strategies for combatting imposter syndrome: