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I am very excited to welcome my friend and colleague, Dr. Angélica Gutiérrez, onto Your Words Unleashed podcast! Angélica is recognized as one of the world’s best 40 under 40 business professors. She teaches leadership negotiations and diversity management at the undergraduate and graduate levels at Loyola Marymount University in the College of Business Administration. She was a visiting professor at NYU Stern School of Business. 

Additionally, she’s a contributor for Inc. Magazine and writes articles on diversity, minority businesses, negotiations, and imposter syndrome. Dr. Gutiérrez coined the term “impostorization,” which refers to the policies, practices, and seemingly innocuous interactions in organizations that make or intend to make individuals question their intelligence, competence, and sense of belonging. She’s published her work on social hierarchy, racial and gender inequality, diversity, imposter syndrome, and impostorization in academic and practitioner outlets. Welcome to the show, Angélica. 

Angélica: Thank you so much. I am very excited to be here. 


Just a little bit of background. Angélica and I have known each other since about 2021, I think, when she joined an online group coaching program that I ran for women academics, and then she joined another group that I ran for women book writers. I wanted to have her on to talk about her work on imposter syndrome and impostorization in the academy, which is something I think we can all relate to.


In terms of my journey through academia, I never really thought I would end up in academia just because as a child, I struggled academically and I was categorized as learning-disabled. And I had a grade school teacher and principal tell my mom that they didn’t think I was capable of learning in a traditional school system. So I think it came as a shock not only to myself but other people that I ended up pursuing a PhD and becoming a faculty.

And I have experienced various challenges, along the way as an academic, one of which is the imposter syndrome, and also what I’ve coined as impostorization. So I’m happy to talk a little bit about each of those, but I have certainly experienced, and I still do. I still experience feelings of inadequacy. I still question whether I’m smart enough or competent enough to do the work that I do.

So it was my early childhood experiences as well as the experiences that I’ve had in academia that motivated my current body of research, which is examining where or how these feelings of inadequacy are triggered among us, particularly women and people of color. 



So it seemed like a very random decision to a lot of people, but I decided to pursue a PhD when I was an undergrad at UCLA. At the time I was a political science major. That was one of my majors, and I intended to go to law school, but as a work-study student, I was a peer advisor for first-generation low-income students who were predominantly Latino and African American. And most of those students were business econ majors.

And so I remember being surprised when my supervisor assigned to me those students. I saw the list and I saw their majors, and I remember telling him, “you must have made a mistake in assigning these students to me because I’ve never taken a business class, I’ve never taken econ in my life so I don’t think I’m capable of advising them on these course requirements!” And he laughed and he said, “no, I think you’re perfectly capable of advising them.” 

And so one of the biggest highlights of being at UCLA was just meeting these students for the first time, you know, hearing about their dreams of becoming an entrepreneur or becoming a CEO of a major corporation. And that was typically during the first or second week of the quarter. Shortly after taking the midterm, they would come back into the counseling office, and the first question that they would pose is, “Angélica, what do I have to do to change my major?”

And I remember just being surprised, thinking, what happened to wanting to go into the business field and becoming CEO or becoming an entrepreneur? And they would often share that they were performing poorly, and so they just thought it would be best to simply change fields. When I would hear these comments, I would often advise them to go see their professors during office hours, right, to get advice on how they can improve their performance. And so half of them would straight tell me, “Angélica, I don’t think they’re going to relate to me. I’m not even going to go see them during office hours.” 

The other half of my students would often go visit with them, but then they would come back and tell me that these professors just seemed like they were in a rush to get somewhere. They didn’t really seem interested in sitting with them and advising them on how to improve their performance. So, it was just hearing about these experiences that students were having with professors that I decided, just one day, I’m going to go to business school and become that professor that I feel they deserve. And so that was ultimately what motivated me to pursue a PhD at a business school and become faculty. I wanted to not only educate, but also help mentor students, especially first-generation college students. Students of color. 


Angélica: I’m trying to think back to orientation when I first started this journey.

Leslie: Right. 


As a PhD student, one of the biggest challenges, and I think it’s a challenge that many of us share, is just being one of the very few women and being the only women of color in the program. So that was one of the immediate challenges. Right. And it’s consistent with what some of the research on the imposter phenomenon does, is that when we are the only or, one of the very few in the environment, we’re very likely to question whether we actually belong in that space.

So that was one of the first challenges I get to orientation. I’m looking around and I’m thinking, “oh my goodness, why am I the only one of the very few women and why am I the only person of color?” The other challenge that I experienced was shortly after I got to orientation, which is we’re going around and we’re introducing ourselves. And so I pronounced my name in the Spanish version, Angélica Gutierrez.

And I remember that after I introduced myself, one of the other students said, “that sounds very hard to pronounce!” Followed by another individual that said, “well, isn’t it the same as the English version, Angelica? Why don’t you just say Angelica?” And the first person that had commented on how difficult my name was to pronounce, he said, I’m just going to call you A.” And so I see that that was a challenge because to some people it may seem something harmless. Right? “I’m just going to call you the English version Angelica. Why don’t you just say Angelica? or I’m just going to call you A because it’s easier for me to pronounce.”

But what some may not understand is that the way some of us pronounce our name is directly tied to our cultural identity. And I am Mexican American, I pronounce my name Angélica. And so by them anglicizing it or just shortening it, it was as though they were telling me indirectly that I had to modify a part of myself that I couldn’t really bring my authentic self to that space. So those are just a couple of challenges that I experienced when I set foot into academia and I started my journey as a PhD student. And I’ve had other, more recent experiences in academia, but those were the initial challenges. As soon as I started, right away, these feelings of unbelonging and inadequacy were triggered. 



Yeah. So I don’t think I’ve ever shared this publicly. My co-author knows this, but I published a paper. I don’t know if you’ve come across it. It’s titled “Impostorization in the Ivory Tower.” And in the introduction, I share the story of Isabella. So I’m Isabella. 

Ah, yeah, Isabella. So this happened just last year. She was teaching, or I should say, I. I was teaching an MBA class in the evening from 6: 30 to 10:00 p.m. and it was about, like, 9:30 or 9:40. And all of a sudden, I’m there speaking with a group of MBA students who had just delivered a presentation. So I’m giving them feedback. All of a sudden, a group of students just barge into my classroom. And so I was shocked because I’m thinking, like, who in the world are these people? Right?

And so as I’m talking with my MBA students, giving them feedback, one of them, a white male student, comes up to me and flatly says, “we need you to leave because we’re about to have a meeting here.” And I remember just looking at him, and I said, “this is my classroom until 10:00 p.m. I’m a professor here. I teach an MBA class. You should be the one to leave.”

And I thought that after I told them that he and his classmates or colleagues would leave, but they stood firm. Yeah. And so I remember just being fearful. I remember just feeling intimidated because he was standing right next to me, and it was very evident that he had no intentions on leaving. I remember going to the podium and I said, well, I have to at least logout. And there was a white female student standing at the podium, and she literally just tosses her arms up and said, “Fine, I don’t care!” I could not understand the hostility that they were demonstrating, you know, especially to me. And the reason why I felt a little bit scared is because that was happening a week after the Michigan State University shooting. And so there have been other mass shootings at universities.

So as a woman, as a woman of color, I’m on high alert. I don’t know how some of these students are going to react. And so for me, that was an imposterizing experience, because even though I was the one with the PhD. I was the one in the authority position as a professor. These students, you know, white students, were clearly telling me very explicitly that this was their space, and I’m the one that had to leave because I had no right to be there.

That happened just last year. So I share that because these impostorizing experiences, I don’t know if they’ll ever really go away. I thought that they would once I earned tenure and became an associate professor, but clearly that hasn’t mattered to some individuals. 


Wow. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing that. You know, it kind-of reminds me of one of my first years of teaching at UMass Boston. I was teaching Sociology 101, and some of the students had started getting really out of hand to the point where I was fearful for my safety. And I remember at the time, I felt like the only thing I could do was get my department chair to come to class. So he was a white, very distinguished senior faculty member, and he was like, “sure, I’ll come.” And he gave a lecture on something. And what was fascinating to me was at the end of this lecture, which was just a very basic, nothing special stuff, they applauded him. And I was like, “what is happening here? Like, he didn’t tell you anything that I haven’t told you.” He was there, honestly, just to monitor the situation and see what was going on. But that was one of those examples of, like, I don’t get applauded. 

Angélica: Right, right. And it’s consistent with what some of the research finds that students do tend to question and challenge female faculty a lot more than and male faculty, specifically white male faculty. But, yeah, it was an interesting experience. Thanks for sharing.



So I decided to come up with a term that would focus more on the role of the environment and triggering some of these feelings of inadequacy that are typically labeled imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon. I’ll share with you the day that that particular term came to mind. So I had just delivered a presentation for an audience of entrepreneurs of color. And so I remember just being very excited when I got to deliver this presentation. And I started, you know, talking about the extensive research on imposter phenomenon, you know, also referred to as imposter syndrome.

And so it was supposed to be an hour-long presentation. And, Leslie, if you can just imagine this, about five minutes into my presentation, one of the participants raised their hand and said, “I understand what you’re talking about here. Imposter syndrome. Imposter phenomenon. But that’s not what I’m experiencing, what I’ve experienced.” And again, entrepreneurs of color: “what I’ve experienced are other people trying to question my qualifications, my ability to succeed as an entrepreneur.”

And shortly, thereafter, somebody else echoed that sentiment. And so I remember. I remember just freezing. I mean, can you imagine? Your audience straight-up tells you it doesn’t resonate. What you’re talking about does not resonate with me. So I remember just freezing for a moment and thinking to myself, “okay, I have two options. I can either just run out of this auditorium. I’m embarrassed, right? I have nothing of value to offer these participants, or I can stay here, put my presentation aside, and just learn about their experiences as entrepreneurs of color.”

So I ended up doing the latter. And so for the remaining 40, 50 minutes, I basically just asked them to talk to me about the comments, the types of interactions that they’ve had with various individuals that either triggered or they felt were intended to trigger their feelings of inadequacy. that night, I remember getting home, and I just couldn’t sleep. I don’t know if you if you’ve had this experience where someone says something or you have a certain experience, and then, you know, tossing and turning, just thinking about it constantly.

And so I remember thinking that night, okay, clearly, imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon, does not capture the experiences that they’ve shared. And then I started reflecting on my own experiences and experiences that other scholars of color have shared with me. And I thought to myself, they’ve described feeling impostorized. And so that’s how I came up with the term. It’s more like impostorization, which, as you mentioned earlier, I do define as the way the environment triggers these feelings of inadequacy, the policies, practices, and seemingly harmless interactions.

And the reason why I just felt that was so important to come up with that term is because, as this experience with entrepreneurs of color demonstrated, the research and most of the discussions on imposter syndrome just focus on the individual. And the assumption is that the individual is the problem. And the strategies that are offered to counter the effects of imposter syndrome often take this fix-the-individual approach.

But as the experiences of these entrepreneurs demonstrated in my own experience and the experience of, other scholars of color have demonstrated, the person is not the problem, it’s the environment.

And we really need to pay attention to the ways in which the environment triggers imposter feelings, and we have to come up with ways to fix these institutions rather than simply putting the burden on individuals to fix themselves. 


Totally. Yeah! I mean, in so many ways, it’s like a sociological read of what’s happening, and it sounds like impostorization is you’re pointing to a process by which these feelings come into being through context, as opposed to imposter phenomenon or imposter syndromes. Seems like a clinical diagnosis, almost. You know, you have this thing now. What should you be doing to feel better about yourself, to feel more confident, to do power postures? You know, like, those are the sorts of things that people recommend. What’s wrong with your self-confidence? 


Yeah, absolutely. And if a problem is the environment, if the problem is the context, then there is very little that power poses or positive affirmations could do for us. 



It functions similarly in terms of the way certain practices or certain interactions that we have with other people trigger these imposter feelings. I’ll just share a very quick example that I have found through my research, and I’ve published a couple of papers on this.

So one phenomenon that I’ve observed in my research, both in academia and in the workplace, is this phenomenon that we refer to as the glass cliff. For people who may not be very familiar with it, it refers to the practice of appointing women or people of color to leadership positions that have a high risk of failure.

A couple of my participants, this was one of the more recent papers, they mentioned two women of color being placed in a leadership position. So in both cases, they were department chairs. But one of them, when she was department chair, her department had been experiencing low student enrollment. And so she was placed in the position. She thought to herself, “it’s going to be up to me to increase student enrollment, to turn this department around.” And she did! She did that very effectively.

She ended up putting together this huge event where she invited various speakers, and she invited a lot of students. And so students became interested in that area, in that major, and she ended up increasing enrollment. Well, the response that she got from her colleagues in the department was very unfavorable. They started telling her that she shouldn’t be actively recruiting. They were insinuating that she must have done something that was not permitted. If the department had a very limited budget, how could she have possibly put on such a large scale event?

So she was placed in this position, but right away, her authority was questioned. She was told that she wasn’t doing that correctly. Her competence as a leader was questioned. And so that phenomenon we also see in the workplace where women or people of color are placed in positions of power, but they’re not necessarily given the resources or the support that they need to actually thrive in those positions. They’re essentially just being set up to fail, where they’re surrounded by colleagues, whether it’s in academia or colleagues in the workplace, they’re surrounded by individuals who are basically just questioning their competence as leaders, questioning their authority, questioning their capacity to do well. 

That’s one example where we see that phenomenon. We see the glass cliff and this effort to impostorize women and people of color in both contexts, whether it’s academia or in other workplaces. 


Yeah, I feel like we saw that so vividly with the Claudine Gay situation.

Angélica: Yeah, that’s a great question. And the response is that I really don’t know the degree to which it’s intentional or not, but these women of color that I interviewed did say that they weren’t given the resources, they weren’t given the support when they were placed in these positions. 

They really did see this effort to keep their hands tied so that they wouldn’t be able to do very much. So, based on that, I would assume that placing them in those positions was intentional, because if you really want to ensure that somebody is thriving in a leadership position, you’re going to want to ensure that they have everything that they need to do well. And that wasn’t the case, at least in terms of the women of color that I interviewed in academia. 

So I don’t know the extent to which it is intentional. In other contexts, I would like to think that it’s not intentional and that perhaps in other contexts, they might not be aware of some of the support and resources that are needed when they’re making these leadership appointments. But at least, as I mentioned, at least in terms of the experiences that these women of color in academia shared, they felt it was pretty clear that they were being set up to fail. 

Leslie: Right. 

Angélica: Yeah. And they simply, you know, the institution just wanted somebody to be held accountable. Right? They wanted to be able to point the finger at these two women of color and say, “okay, if our departments are falling apart, it’s because of you.” 



One of the first recommendations that I provide is that before they even accept these leadership appointments, they have to be very clear in terms of what they’re going to need. Some of us, especially as women of color, and it might be cultural, we may be taught very early on to simply be grateful for any opportunities that come our way and not be so demanding.

But as women of color, as we’re being placed in these leadership roles, we want to ensure that we’re going to succeed. We want to ensure that we’re going to do very well. And in order to do that, we have to be very explicit in terms of the level of support and resources that we will need to do a good job. So that’s one of the biggest recommendations that I make, is just ensuring that they have the right resources before they even accept the appointments, making sure that the institution is doing a good job about getting their colleagues to buy in to their authority, making sure that their entire department is going to be supportive of them in that role.

So if they don’t feel that they have the right resources, if they don’t feel that they have the level of support that they need from their colleagues to succeed in that position, then, you know, I encourage them to really consider whether it’s the right appointment for them to accept. 

Leslie: So that’s such great advice for women leaders.


Yeah, so one of the biggest pieces of advice that I also received when I was junior faculty, and you mentioned postdoc, I was also a postdoc at the University of Michigan. So one of the biggest pieces of advice that I received and that I now give is to be very intentional in terms of how we use our time and try our best to protect it, especially as postdocs, as junior faculty, we’re on that tenure clock. And it’s really important for us to spend a substantial amount of time on research so that we can ensure that we’re going to have the publications that we need to earn tenure.

And so I guess that’s one marker of success, right? Earning tenure. But in order for us to get there, it’s important for us to just make sure that we’re using our time wisely. And as women and women of color, we’re often approached to serve on various committees, to serve as a faculty advisor. And so all of those responsibilities can be very time consuming.

So one of the recommendations that I would make is just to try our best to just protect our time, because institutions will find a way to absorb it, but we have to be very protective because at the end of the day, it is important for us to earn tenure. 

Leslie: Yeah.


Yeah. So I earned tenure in 2019. Pre-tenure, I often consulted with my more senior colleagues in the department because they have a better understanding of what university committees or what college committees will require the most amount of time. 

So I was very lucky to have these senior faculty members who essentially served as my informal mentors, advising me on what types of requests to accept and which ones to decline. So that’s something that I think would be helpful for others to do as well, is to consult with others before accepting an assignment. And so that’s one of the things that I did as junior faculty.

Now I feel that post tenure, I’m able to decline a lot more requests, because I’m not so concerned about if I decline this request. If I say no, it might come back to haunt me. They might not give me tenure. The people that are supposed to recommend me or the people that are supposed to vote on my tenure case may say no, they might not support me because I declined this request. Now, post tenure, I feel like I have the ability to say no more more often.

And now, post tenure, I’m more focused on doing things that I’m genuinely passionate about. Before tenure, it was about playing the game, making sure that you’re doing x, y, and z, constantly referring to the faculty handbook, reminding myself of all of the requirements I have to satisfy in in order to earn tenure. Now, I don’t really have to refer to it to make a decision.

I’m more focused on what I’m going to enjoy, and if it doesn’t align with my personal values or my personal interests, I’m more inclined to decline now. 


That’s great to hear you say that you are doing that, because I feel like so many tenured women professors find themselves even more immersed in service and they lose themselves completely.


Absolutely. And I appreciate that you mentioned that, because post tenure, that’s often the case where we start being asked to do a lot more service. You know, we get a lot more requests. So it’s even more important for us to really look internally and see what we value, what’s going to align with our interests, and declining anything that doesn’t. 

Leslie: Align with that and not feeling guilty about that. 


Yeah, absolutely. That’s something that I sometimes struggle with.

I do feel a little bit guilty sometimes when I say no to people. But at the end of the day, we need to do what’s in our heart, what’s best for us, because academia isn’t necessarily gonna care about us. And this has come through in the research that I conducted in the interviews of various academics. Academia doesn’t really seem to care about individuals’ well being. They don’t really care about what you’re personally passionate about or interested in. And if you decide to leave, guess what? They’ll go ahead and just replace you. And I hesitate to be so candid, but that’s the reality.

Which is why it’s so important for us to just stay true to ourselves. Because at the end of the day, I mean, academia in many cases, just views us as being dispensable. And so if we end up leaving and pursuing another career, at least we’ll be doing so knowing that we stay true to ourselves and to our values, rather than just continuing to give ourselves to an institution that, quite frankly, doesn’t always have our best interests at heart. 


I love your bravery and courage in saying all that and still being in the academy. Like they say, work will never love you back, right? Your institution is not there to love you. This is a system that thrives off of people having no boundaries and overworking and putting their personal well-being to the side for the sake of the job. 

So finding the balance, I think, is so integral. And then when you add impostorization to that, it’s even harder for a lot of folks.


Great question! So one of the most important steps would be for institutions to really examine how their policies, practices, and even interactions may be impostorizing. Academics maybe perhaps consciously or subconsciously triggering some of these feelings of inadequacy that are labeled imposter syndrome. So that would be a big first step, looking within and seeing how they may be inadvertently triggering imposter feelings. 

Another recommendation that I would make to institutions is we were talking about the glass cliff phenomenon earlier. So the recommendation that would follow that would be, it’s important for institutions to ensure that women and people of color, when they are appointed to leadership positions, do have the resources that they need to succeed in that role.

And another important recommendation, and a lot of these recommendations have come through from the academics that I’ve been interviewing. So one of the biggest recommendations that they’ve made is really pay attention to the feedback that your faculty are attempting to provide, because in many of the cases, of the academics that I’ve interviewed, they mentioned having very unpleasant experiences. They face racism, sexism, ageism, various types of biases. And when they’ve attempted to raise these concerns to administration, those concerns just go unaddressed.

And so it’s important for us to really listen to our faculty, right, and try to implement some of the recommendations that they are offering, because if we don’t, as institutions, we stand to lose these faculty. And I’m not sure how much more academia can stand to lose, because we’ve already seen an exodus, especially an exodus of women of color. So they’re leaving. They’re willing to leave, right. If they continue to experience these highly toxic environments, they’re going to leave.

And so if academia is really interested in retaining their faculty, they really have to change how they do business and try to create more inclusive environments. And so, the question is, well, how can we do that?

How do we create inclusive environments? Ask your faculty. The faculty are the experts.

They’re the ones that can direct you and tell you exactly what they need to feel like they belong, to feel like they matter, to feel like they’re valued in academia. They can tell you very specifically what you can do as an institution. 


Angélica: Yeah, absolutely. 

Leslie: So, so super helpful and so fascinating. So, what are your plans with this project? Are you planning to write a book with it? 


I am, and so I’m definitely going to be following up with you, at some point for your guidance based on your expertise in writing books. So I am currently working on a book that focuses on impostorization, and it’s going to be also based on my personal experiences as well as the experiences of women of color in academia and in various industries and across sectors. So that’s something that I’m definitely working on. And I continue to write on impostorization and popular press outlets because I really want to get this information to wider audiences.

I think that there’s a lot of power in recognizing that we are not the problem, but the environment is. 


Yeah, that is so empowering, and this is another venue to get that message out. So I’m so deeply appreciative for you coming on here and sharing your wisdom with my audience.


They’re welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn. If there’s anything that I can do for your listeners to support their academic or professional endeavors, I’d be happy to support them. So LinkedIn would be a great way to stay connected.

And thank you so much, Leslie. On a side note, I do want to thank you for the guidance that you provided when I participated in your writing group. As you may recall, I was very stuck. I did feel very inadequate. I wondered whether I would be competent enough to write. I wondered whether what I wanted to write about would have any value in the eyes of audiences. And you really helped me. I remember you were just very affirming and very encouraging, and you helped me remove some of those barriers that were keeping me from writing. And so I just wanted to take a quick moment to say thank you so much for the incredible impact that you’ve had on me.


Oh, thank you for saying that. That’s so thoughtful and generous and also empowering in the sense of you took a lot of those feelings and you turned it into this brand new research area that’s super groundbreaking and is going to matter for people in so many different fields and areas. So thank you for doing this research and for sharing it again with my audience. So, folks, please connect with Angélica on LinkedIn and read all of her articles, which are coming out in a lot of different public venues, and I will talk to you again soon.