When I was first elected to the board I truly felt I had gotten there on sheer luck. How could I, a 19 year old living in Devon, have ended up on the board of a national charity? And, it’s a worry I had again last year when our members elected me as Chair at 23.
In the months since I was elected as chair I have been thinking a lot about “imposter syndrome” and particularly what it means for us at British Youth Council. This is probably a rather unconventional look at imposter syndrome.
The concept of imposter syndrome relies on a belief that your talent or qualifications do not meet the threshold for holding a particular role or office. But when the role is without a set list of qualifications, like being a trustee, it can be a bit more complicated; this isn’t a role that says you require certain A-Level grades, a particular degree, or 5 years professional experience.
This role requires you to bring a diverse range of skills, and some of those skills will be different to other people on the board. This is how we make sure that as a board we are comprehensive so we can cover all areas. This is how we make sure we have good governance. In my non-British Youth Council life, I work in Parliament. I bring a knowledge of policy to the board, but I will never claim to be a finance or risk whiz.
Knowing what you bring to the table is a skill set in itself. It is the ability to assess our own strengths and weaknesses, and identify where we might need help. This doesn’t make you an imposter – it makes you smart.
I take issue with the idea of imposter syndrome, especially in volunteering and elected roles like being a British Youth Council trustee. When our trustees are elected or appointed they have been through multiple application and interview rounds. This process is designed to ensure that they have the right skills needed to be a good trustee. If they are elected they are presented to members who then make the decision about who is elected.
I think for me to say that I felt like an imposter as Chair of British Youth Council would be a bit insulting to the Search Group who reviewed my application and interviewed me and to the members who elected me. For me to say to all of those people that “you were wrong, I shouldn’t be here”, is undermining their credibility in making decisions.
So no, I don’t have imposter syndrome.
I might at times lack self confidence but that is far more likely to be that I am not an old, white man like most charity chairs rather than my ability to do the role. When members elected me as chair, I had already served four years on the board and brought with me experience from my life outside British Youth Council. To say that I got here on “luck”, is to ignore all the work I put in to acquire the skills and experience to be able to do this role well, it is also to undermine the judgment of those who elected me here.
I think a lot of the time we self diagnose ourselves with “imposter syndrome” instead of drawing attention to the systemic and structural barriers holding the most marginalized back. To ignore these barriers, to dress it up in a nice bow with an easy name of “imposter syndrome”, means that we will not be able to address them, work on them, and overcome them.