Anti-racism webinar five: Joel Dunn and Amanda Stephen

Code switching and imposter syndrome

On Wednesday 17 March, we were joined by Joel Dunn and Amanda Stephen who were able to give us insight into two very important topics.

Our speakers are both advocates for promoting positive mental health, personally and in the work that they do.

What is code switching?

Code switching can affect people in different ways such as how they dress or wear their hair and even the tone of their voice and how they greet people. Being able to code switch plays a role in being able to fit into different environments with a range of different groups of people from various backgrounds. The ability to present in a favourable way to different people and amplify certain parts of one’s character is a useful tool but there is also a sinister side to this.

For Joel, code switching has been fundamental to his success which has led to his current role. He has had to amplify certain aspects of his character in order to work effectively with other people.

Self-protection and acceptance

Code switching works as a protective factor and is important in gaining a sense of acceptance. It can also be used in relation to religion and culture. People from mixed heritage backgrounds can often feel like outsiders, as they might feel as though they do not belong to a specific community.

The most important thing is to be authentic in every space. It is key to be conscious of how we amplify and align ourselves in different settings.

When we present ourselves in a particular space to be more desirable in such a way that is not true to our authentic selves, it forms a sense of imposter syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome and why do people experience it?

Imposter syndrome can be defined as feeling like a “phoney”. Even when someone is qualified to be in a particular position, they doubt their abilities and that they are valid and worthy of being in that space.

Amanda shared that she felt like an imposter with a change in the culture from Zimbabwe to the UK. Within her native culture it is common to not question authority, especially as a woman.

At various points in our lives we all feel like impostors but it’s about how you deal with it. It is helpful if others in the racial majority listen when ethnic minorities share their experiences of not feeling welcome or belonging in a particular space.

What changes can be made to build and maintain your happiness?

Our speakers are advocates for practising mindfulness.

The ability to take constructive criticism can help you to recognise when you feel imposter syndrome and you need to learn to deal with it.

By being conscious that some colleagues might have to code switch it can greatly help to create more comfortable environments and inclusive spaces. It is important for us to educate ourselves on cultural differences.

Valuing one’s authentic self is a very personal thing. Stay true to who you are and don’t be afraid to use your voice.

Looking at how industries treat people with protected characteristics shows that there is still a long way to go to be inclusive. Amanda reflected on not wanting to speak up to prevent being seen as the angry black womanand shared her experience as a model in which she had to repeatedly bring her own makeup, as often makeup artists did not have the right shades or did not know how to do makeup for someone with a darker skin tone. Experiences such as this can greatly impact upon mental wellbeing and one’s feeling of belonging.

Key takeaways:
Joel: Congruency and integrity are key. Being able to amplify certain aspects of your character but maintain your authenticity and maintain alignment between vision and values.

Amanda: We are all constantly learning and must be open to learning continuously. Imposter syndrome and come and go so it is important to learn about and be kind with ourselves.

Amanda Stephens:

Amanda Stephens podcast

Joel/ Paradigm project:

Joel Dunn on Linkedin



This blog was co-written by Angellique Woolery and Ben Joseph