Joyce Roche
Stories from the Oaks

Joyce Roché ‘70 drops sage advice on combating imposter syndrome

Dillard alum Joyce Roché ‘70, has had a fulfilling and thriving career. The New Orleans native earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in math education from Dillard and later acquired her Master in Business Administration from Columbia University in 1972. Upon graduating from the Ivy League, Roché worked as the manager of merchandising at Avon Products, Inc., and later became the director of marketing at Revlon, Inc. In 1981, Roché returned to Avon and became its first African-American female vice president and first vice president of global marketing. As Roché continued to climb the career ladder, she received the opportunity to become the president and chief executive officer at Girls, Inc., in 2000. Throughout her profession, Roché sat on several boards such as Macy’s, Tupperware Brands Corporation, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. Despite Roché climbing up the career ladder and shattering several glass ceilings as a Black woman in Corporate America, she shared with the Office of Communications and Marketing that she often struggled with imposter syndrome. 

According to TIME Magazine, imposter syndrome is the idea that your success is only due to luck and not because of your educational background, skills, or talents. The syndrome identified by psychologists Drs. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. In their research, Clance and Imes found that women “are more likely either to project the cause of success outward to an external cause (luck) or a temporary internal quality (effort) that they do not equate with inherent ability.” Whereas men “tend to own success as attributable to a quality inherent in themselves.” While Clance and Imes focused their study between gender binaries, in recent times, more psychologists have researched the effects of imposter syndrome in different races/ethnicities and gender orientations. 

Reporters Donte Bernard and Tracie Lowe for Diverse: Issues In Higher Education noted that Black students who are educated or work at predominantly white institutions/businesses may question if they belong at said schools or jobs. “Black students may be more vulnerable to experiences of impostor syndrome, particularly in the context of negative racialized experiences, given their minoritized and marginalized status both within academia and society,” Bernard and Lowe wrote for Diverse Issues. To help Dillard students recognize and overcome imposter syndrome, below are exclusive tips about imposter syndrome Joyce Roché shared with the Office of Communications and Marketing. 

Imposter Syndrome Can Happen Anywhere 

Roché:  I grew up in New Orleans and went to McDonogh 35; a lot of the students had parents who were working professionals. They were teachers, doctors, or attorneys; and I came from a family where my mom was a domestic helper and my father was killed when I was very young. So when I think back to when I developed imposter syndrome, I think about high school because I was a student who came from a family of limited economic means. Columbia was the first place where I competed against people who didn’t look like me. It was the first time I was enrolled in a majority white institution, so my imposter syndrome was full-blown at that point. I questioned whether or not I fit in or compete effectively with people who didn’t look like me. While researching for my book, “The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success,” I found out that imposter syndrome usually happens in spaces where you are different from the people you are working or going to school with. These differences can trigger the imposter syndrome. I worked like crazy throughout the years to counter what I thought my colleagues thought about me. 

Imposter Syndrome Is An Emotional Reaction 

Roché:  When [I interviewed] Dr. Clance for my book, she told me that imposter syndrome is an emotional reaction to something that may or may not be happening. [While working] at Avon Corporate, I was in the small majority of women and there were few people of color in similar positions like me at the company. When dealing with imposter syndrome, it is important to understand what is real and what is an emotional reaction when you are “other,” in certain situations. Sometimes it may be the work culture that is marginalizing you or, is it you over-thinking if you belong or not. 

How Companies Can Help Manage Differences Between Employees 

Roché:  Companies often talk about diversity and inclusion but they have turned it into a numbers game. Company [leaders] may say “okay, I have this population. So, I need x number of African-American, I need x number of Latinos, x number of Asian Americans.” So aside from diversity, companies need to focus on inclusion. They should ask themselves, “do I have a culture that is accepting of differences? Does this culture embrace people who have different backgrounds and experiences? And do they add to the companies’ overall goal or mission?” 

How Students Can Navigate Imposter Syndrome After Graduation 

Roché:  Students should learn not to question if they are good enough. If they feel like they are experiencing imposter syndrome when they are around a group of people, the student(s) should review the culture of that environment. There may be times where people will bring out your self-doubt, so imposter syndrome may not always be the culprit. Be comfortable with what you’re bringing to the table and your educational background to do your job [with excellence]. You need to have people you trust around you, who will help you remember your value. That is the key; also, remember that the training you received at Dillard and why your employer decided to hire you. You will learn new things; no one leaves college knowing exactly what they need to do for a job. Always remember the training and expertise you have. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For more information about imposter syndrome and Roché’s book “The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success,” click here.