Over the past few years, there has been increased attention paid to the imposter phenomenon (a.k.a., imposter syndrome) in the media. Its popularity is understandable given that it’s an intuitive, common-sense concept about a tremendously relatable topic: feeling like a phony on the job. It’s also, at least according to recent review of the literature, fairly common: up to 80% of people have experienced imposter feelings.

The increased attention to the imposter phenomenon (IP) has also resulted in increased scrutiny when it comes to race. In particular, recent critiques have argued that (1) it is a white woman’s problem that does not serve people of color, and that (2) it blames women and people of color for feeling like imposters rather than focusing on how their environment causes them to do so. In both cases, critics ask: Are we causing more harm than good when we use it to explain feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, especially with people of color?

It’s a fair question. As a professor of psychology who has published research on IP for the past decade, I am sympathetic to many of the criticisms surrounding IP. I believe there are aspects about its conceptualization that need to be revisited and reconceptualized in light of emerging research findings. However, I am concerned that recommendations to get rid of the concept for people of color in particular risk throwing the baby out with the bath water. In other words, people may categorically dismiss the imposter phenomenon without understanding the important insights we have learned that can help people live happier and healthier lives.

Rather than discarding the imposter phenomenon altogether, we should reconsider how we apply it. (Note: I will largely avoid using the word “syndrome” throughout, except when others refer to it as such, as it implies an abnormal medical condition and some people find that stigmatizing and pathologizing.) By looking at what research tells us about how people of color experience IP, I propose a new way for individuals and organizations to think about and address it.

Read the complete article in Harvard Business Review