KUALA LUMPUR – Former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday urged girls to resist the “imposter syndrome” she had felt on the way up and fight men for power, saying plenty of them didn’t deserve it.
On a trip to Asia to promote girls’ education, Obama contrasted her path to the top as a black woman with the easy presumption many men feel on their route to high office.
“I am telling you, there are a lot of people who don’t belong there,” Obama said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“They have been told they belong there – they don’t, but there is a presumption… so you can’t count on somebody else to give you this self-confidence, that is not how we work.”
Brought up in a working class, African-American family in Chicago, Obama recounted being told she was not good enough for Princeton University, where she studied sociology before she went on to Harvard Law School.
Obama made it into the top schools and the most famous address in Washington D.C. despite suffering an “impostor syndrome” that she said so often bedevils minorities and women.
“Women feel it often because society say you shouldn’t be the one there,” she told a crowd of young Asian leaders gathered in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
The 55-year-old urged the 200 leaders – many of them women – from 33 countries across Asia-Pacific to speak up, even though men still dominate both politics and the boardroom.
“We need women and diverse minds, people who think differently and have different religious beliefs, because truth and the right answers come from diversity of experiences,” said Obama, flanked on stage by “Pretty Woman” star Julia Roberts.
The duo visited Vietnam earlier in the week to stress how education can transform lives, part of an initiative Obama founded to promote opportunities for girls.
It is an uphill task worldwide, with women lagging in all areas, from making money to wielding power.
Obama has been a staunch advocate for women’s rights, and was voted the most admired women among Americans, according to a poll by Gallup last year. Barack Obama has credited his wife as “his rock” and for keeping him grounded as the first black president of the United States.