Am I An Imposter?: Representation Helped Me Imagine the Possibilities of a Human-Centered Workplace Culture

by | Jun 12, 2023 | Hummingbird Blog

Earlier this year, I was a guest on Kim Meninger’s podcast, The Imposter Syndrome Files, where I shared my experiences dealing with imposter syndrome. It was definitely a conversation full of “real talk” – and I hope the stories I shared help others.

That’s why I choose to be ‘out’ by the way. Why I share my stories. Why I’m open about being HIV+ and about my battles with anxiety and depression. I make the choice to be out for me first – because secrets give power to the dark and I want to live in the light. And I make the choice to be out for others who need to see someone like me sharing my stories, my experiences – to know they are not alone.

That doesn’t mean it’s always been easy to be open about who I am. Even today, particularly with the rise of transphobia and homophobia in the U.S., it can still be hard. I am not going back in the closet – now or ever – and I’m determined to be part of the work making this world a better place – a place that is safe for all of us.

Let’s go back about 25 years to a time when I was afraid of being openly gay at work. While I came out at work a few months into my first corporate job, there have been experiences since then where being out, in a particular workplace, wasn’t okay. Those experiences led to significant moments of anxiety, stress, and, at times,impacted how I worked, led, and engaged with the company. 

In 2023, just four CEOs of a Fortune 500 company are openly LGBTQ+. 

  1. Tim Cook (Apple)
  2. Jim Fitterling (Dow)
  3. Jeffrey Gennette (Macy’s)
  4. Beth Ford (Land O’Lakes)

All are white.

None are transgender or non-binary.

While one is a woman, women only make up 10% of Fortune 500 CEO positions.

Throughout my career, I have worried that being myself would negatively impact my career trajectory – a feeling that many of us from marginalized and underrepresented groups experience. While that worry still emerges on occasion today, and I still feel like an imposter at moments, I recognize the privilege I have a cisgender, white, man who is 6’6” tall – and try to focus that energy on being an advocate for others.

I wonder, if there were more examples of other openly LGBTQ+ leaders earlier in my life, would I have felt less like an imposter and would have felt a greater sense of belonging? Representation matters! While there is always a person who goes first, it’s hard to imagine who you can become when you don’t have a reference point, a possibility model that represents a life and career that appears to be unattainable for most of us. 

Possibilities emerge when people can be themselves. When people, humans, are  their best selves, the best of them can emerge, and they can do their best work. It’s a win-win-win scenario.

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” – Dr. Brené Brown

Creating a human-centered workplace culture allows leaders to foster a workplace that cultivates true belonging. When someone feels a sense of belonging, they are less likely to question their worthiness, effectiveness, and capabilities. And when we clear that energy, they can focus on the work and doing their best.

To be fair, being who you are is much easier said than done in life. Not because we innately want to deny, suppress, or hide who we are but because we live in a world that has continuously shown people like me that we are not welcome and don’t belong. If you’re curious to hear another perspective, watch this TedX talk – All the Little Things.

The recent increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide has only intensified the fear and anxiety for many LGBTQ+ people – people who simply want to be able to work, love, and live with the same dignity, rights, and protections as our neighbors. And that emotion, that energy, has an impact on them, their abilities, and often, their performance.

Tragically, this reality is particularly true for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people who are being intentionally targeted and stripped of fundamental human rights. They need our support, our love, our voices.

 So what does this all mean for me, in the simplest terms:

Am I an imposter? No

Am I an imperfect leader who has and will continue to make mistakes? Yes

Do human-centered leaders have an obligation to support their marginalized employees to assure them that they belong? Absolutely

And now, I feel compelled to ask:

  • How will you share your stories? 
  • How will you be an advocate for others? 
  • How will you continue?

Wishing you a Happy Pride!

Thanks for reading.

Be sure to check out the podcast episode and listen to my other podcast appearances here.

Brian McComak

Brian McComak

CEO / Founder

he / him / LGBTQ+

Brian McComak is the CEO & Founder of Hummingbird Humanity. He is a consultant, speaker, author, and facilitator with over 25 years of experience in DEI, HR, culture, change management, internal communications, and employee experience. He is an openly gay man and a person with a disability who shares his lived experiences in service of fostering workplaces where humans thrive.

We want to engage in this conversation with you! Follow us on LinkedIn and let us know your thoughts on the discussion.