Imposter Syndrome, Where I've Failed, and Rethinking Mentorship

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 / 10:58 PM

“What does real mentorship look like in the workplace?” That’s a question that’s been coming up more and more frequently as media organizations confront an existing problem that’s now become impossible for leaders to ignore: Journalism has long-suffered from a lack of diversity, and as I talk with friends and former colleagues about this, there's one thing that it seems we all agree on: It should not be controversial to say that that needs to change. 

But how does it change? What can be done? 

A few years ago, I asked my Facebook network for their thoughts on mentorship, which I then featured in a video and blog post: "The Thing About Mentors..." At the time, I talked about why I didn't feel like I was the right person to be anyone's mentor: imposter syndrome mixed with the realization that I didn't have a mentor.

I'm not sure how true the latter is right now. If you asked me who my mentors are today, I could name you a handful of people – some who I speak with frequently, others who I don't talk to regularly but who've advocated for me and have continued to do so. The common thing that all of the people I consider mentors have is that they're all people of color, and most of them are women. 

Which leads me to the first point in why I didn't feel qualified to mentor people in the past: imposter syndrome. It's something that's followed me throughout my entire career, no matter where I've gone or what I've done. Whenever someone praises my experience, I think about the time a male Asian American colleague suggested I need to look a certain way in order to be taken seriously. When I sit down to create projects or initiatives, I immediately start second-guessing myself and recall the time a white colleague told me the name “NBC Asian America” was too long, and so I should “pick an Asian word” to rename it to instead. 

When I'm asked to moderate a panel or speak at an event, I'm reminded of how a white male executive I was at a high-level meeting with asked me to get him coffee, not realizing I was one of the people asked to be at the table to discuss the critical subject of diversity and inclusion. 

And when someone asks for my advice, I remember the time a white editor inexplicably re-edited a story I had been editing and introduced inaccuracies to the reporting. When I asked them about it, they suggested I read the subject matter’s Wikipedia page to “learn more,” to which I pointed out that the top citation and links on the Wiki page were to articles I’d edited for years and a documentary I had supervised.

That's all to say: I believe I have failed in my understanding of how to be a better mentor to others because I allowed my own self-doubt and my anxieties about imposter syndrome to dominate, and I'm sorry. I also somehow got it in my head that I couldn't be a mentor for someone if I didn't have my own shit together – which I now know is not true. 

I've spent nearly a decade in this industry professionally, and about half of it in management. I believe I have done my best to support my colleagues – and especially my staff and interns – but I know that I could have done more: there were times I found myself in offices with executives or with HR managers, advocating on various issues and concerns, only to find myself in a losing battle. Instead of pushing harder or fighting louder, there were times I gave in because I felt exhausted – which is selfish. Battles against inequalities and injustices aren't won by sitting back, and I vow to do better in the future.

Going back to my initial questions: How can we change what mentorship looks like in the workplace? As some of my friends pointed out back in 2016 around my first blog about mentorship, it's a relationship that requires an investment as well as an understanding that it's a two-way street. So what kinds of opportunities can we create to ensure that people of color can not just feel safe, but feel supported? 

I wish I had the perfect set of solutions for this. I know it's not something that can be solved by one person overnight, either. For many companies, it will take buy-in from an executive level all the way down and I hope that if those conversations aren't already being had in a newsroom, that they're starting now. It is not enough to celebrate diversity on the surface without actively trying to cultivate and retain the talented individuals whose voices help create that diversity. 

You Might Also Like