Why beating the imposter syndrome is important for more diversity

"We need to stop kidding ourselves. There are relevant women that can speak on any topic. You just have to look a little harder, because they aren’t heavily promoted in media, but they do exist. And they probably think - just like me - that there are many other more qualified people to speak up on a topic. It’s a vicious circle."

This is a guest post by Léonore de Roquefeuil from STATION F’s Female Founders Fellowship. Léonore is the CEO of Voxe, a startup in the Facebook program.

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As 2020 rolls around, let’s give ourselves permission to speak up when we feel out of place.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at a conference, surrounded by academics. Actual intellectuals, the kind of people who publish several books a year, who are recognized experts on various topics and discuss currents affairs on France Culture. 

When I first received my invitation, I wanted to decline. 

What could I possibly say about “Individualism and Democracy” that hasn’t already been written by someone more educated and refined than me ? 

A few articles on Medium and my newsletters were definitely not going to cut it. I can’t really say I have a structured thought on “the benefits of a liquid democracy versus a deliberative or participative democracy”. 

Most of all, I had a very important birthday party to attend. Friends are the greatest, right? 

At first, I didn’t even answer for a couple of days, then I replied I couldn’t attend because of some fake previous engagement. Then, I suggested one of my associates go instead of me. 

Their reaction made me realize I was being a coward. 

“I think Esther should go” said Clara. 

“Actually, Clara would be better at it” replied Esther. 

So, I made fun of them : “Wow guys, how’s that imposter syndrome going?”. 

They both hold one or two Masters degree, one of them actually has a degree in philosophy… All three of us should at least have a minimal understanding of Tocqueville’s theories. Most of all… We have actually been working on the concrete translation of these theories everyday for the past 2 years!

At that moment, as the oldest one on the team – and coincidentally CEO – I realize I should be leading by example and go to that conference. Even though it’s not a priority and I should be working from the office on that day. 

So I confirm my participation and move on pretty quickly. I won’t think about the conference until a week prior. 

The Monday before the conference, I’m grumbling about it and my two competing personalities (a/ the lazy and taciturn one and b/ the challenge hungry side of me) are transforming my brain to mush. 

a/ “Why did I say yes for this conference, yet another event I should have said “no” to. It’s not going to bring us any growth or business for Voxe. And I’m so tired. In fact, I look terrible. Wait. What if I said I was sick and didn’t go ?”

b/ “I can’t actually cancel the day before. On top of that, the organizer is an awesome guy who seems to do this for free. Leonore, stop messing around, you’re going.”

Until the morning of, I was scared. 

I was scared of looking stupid, of not being up to the challenge, of not being up to the level of the mysterious intellectuals who seem to have read Tocqueville in first grade and Marcel Gauchet just for fun. Whereas, I’d much rather read novels than essays during my free time. 

So the conference begins. I see a couple familiar faces, but I don’t know most of the participants. I listen in to a few different sessions and then, it’s my turn to walk on stage. 

The set-up is already pretty difficult : 2 speakers, one on one, for a 40 minutes debate, followed by 20 minutes of Q&A. With some quite complex questions. 

I try my hardest, and I’m actually pretty good: I talk about the grassroots actions and what we do everyday with Voxe. And even though I’m more focused on concrete actions rather than the philosophical aspects of the question, I realised that my interventions are valid and actually have a point in this debate. Of course, my perfectionist brain regrets I haven’t had more practice, but at the same time, I haven’t written an essay in a long time…

And then, it’s over. Finally. I made it through. 

Up to the next part. An audience question. 

A college student from the area asks how we could attract more diverse talents to the media industry, when audience seem to steer away from them. 

“Good question.”

Before I answer, I take a look around. Rightly, most of the people in the audience work in media. And that’s when it hit me. After a 4 hour conference, I realize I was the only “diversity element” to speak. 

I answer that in order for us to have more diversity on our screens, in our governments, in our universities and in leadership roles, we need organizers to keep in mind the picture of society that they are reflecting. I’m talking about that insidious thought that plays on repeat inside your mind, that image that keeps coming back: “intellectuals are 40+ years old men”.

Before that student’s question, it hadn’t even hit me, because it seemed to be a reality. 

When I mention it’s important to promote different people, different faces, in order to help  those who are listening to speak up. So that these people also feel like they have a public voice too. That’s when an academics mentions in passing “Sure, but it is still necessary that they have something to say”.

Stunned, I mutter a “yes, of course” and drop it. 

It’s funny, because a few years back, I would have probably said the same thing: “quotas are great, sure, but if someone is not qualified enough or doesn’t want to run for office, we’re not going to force them to do it.”

We need to stop kidding ourselves. There are relevant women that can speak on any topic. You just have to look a little harder, because they aren’t heavily promoted in media, but they do exist. And they probably think – just like me – that there are many other more qualified people to speak up on a topic. It’s a vicious circle.

That’s why we, as millennial women with a tiny bit of visibility, have a responsibility to accept invitations to speak up at events where we feel like we don’t belong. 

I realised that when we make a conscious effort to participate in these kind of events, not only does it make us grow as a human being, but it also shifts our image of society. It shows that you can be a young women – not exactly identifying as “an intellectual” – and debate with famous academics. 

As I walked off stage, two young women came up to me: “ how did you get here? (understand: “you don’t really belong”) and most of all, why did you come?”. I laugh it off and answer: “I came for you guys”. 

They laughed. 

They couldn’t imagine how honest that answer was. 

This anecdote convinced me of how important it is to build a “smart” media destined for millennial women, just like us, who don’t speak up enough. 

That’s why we launched la quotidienne de Voxe, a newsletter made to help young female professionals who want to make up their own opinions on various topics, such as current events, financial planning, workplace politics, ecological transition… and to make their voices heard. 

To discover this new Voxe you can sign up here.

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