Authenticity is key. Not only in the workplace, but also in life. In the age of social media in particular, we are becoming increasingly keen on distinguishing the real persona from the fabricated external image. In the age of inclusion and diversity, we see more and more how personal lack of authenticity can cause a drain on employees, and more specifically, employees of color.
A colleague posted an HBR article around this topic in a GroupMe this week and it resonated with me for a few reasons.
1. The messaging "be your true self inside and outside of work" is one that many accept, yet few truly espouse.
I will be the first to admit that I struggle with "authenticity" in the workplace. I'll also step back and say that to some extent, what I'm viewing as inauthentic can in some ways be considered multi-faceted. How do we separate talking the natural tendency to talk about horse speeds with our equestrian club friends and Audre Lorde with our book club friends with talking about work at work and life on the weekends?
The authors challenged my own thinking that it's perfectly reasonable to fully separate church and state. You can certainly separate the two, but to some extent the juice that you squeeze from both oranges will be that much less sweet. Think about some of the conversations that you have with your friends and family. Now, think about the conversations that you have with your co-workers. Do you broach the exact same topics in both? Why or why not? If you don't, think of 1-2 topics that you feel comfortable introducing into your workplace discussions that would not only leave you feeling more fulfilled and included in discussions, but also help you bridge the gap between your worlds.
2. Behaviors are often learned, and re-learned, and re-learned again.
The power of networking is not a new phenomenon. Most of us understand that to make it in any field - creative, corporate, spiritual, athletic - we cannot operate in 100% isolation. At some point, to share our message and to further our craft, we'll have to learn from, and/or with, other people. From that lens, I see life as a never-ending informal or formal networking activity. I'm also a millennial introvert and extended, in-person, open-ended conversation overwhelms me 9 times out of 10, so please take that extreme with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, this point highlights one key theme that couples well with the discussion in the article around the challenges that many people of color face with opening up in the workplace - you may think networking as your authentic self is natural for you until you realize that it isn't; and at that point, you'll need a reminder to keep pushing.
We all need reminders in life. This article was a reminder for me, a tool to re-evaluate how I approach my relationships in the workplace and why I approach them that way. Last week, I volunteered at a "Hidden Figures" diversity recruiting event in my office. That was a reminder for me. As the event title suggests, Mimi Valdés, executive producer of the award-winning film, "Hidden Figures," was a valued speaker and guest. As she sat at the front of the room wearing a flannel and combat boots amidst a sea of employees dressed in various degrees of business casual and business professional attire, Mimi both embodied and vocalized the importance of being your true self no matter where you are or what you're doing. I internalized every word that she spoke because like I said, everything serves as a reminder. You don't realize how much tension you're holding in your shoulders until you receive a massage. Similarly, I often fail to realize how much of my personality - my past, my experiences, my joys, my pain points - that I'm holding back from others until I'm reminded by those who are walking proudly and glowingly in their truth, like Mimi.
At the core of Mimi's advice to all of us in the crowd, recruiting candidates and employees alike, was encouragement: use your energy on doing the work and the things that you love, not on holding back who you are. Because it does take up an immense amount of energy to do that day in and day out. Doing what you love is one thing, and I think that this is the thing that many of us focus on when we're looking to maximize our career experiences. Doing what you love and being who you are is a whole different ball game, but it's one that's worth winning.
“Love what it is that you do - it has to feel good. When you know what makes you feel good, try to find ways to make that feeling happen in your work life."
- Mimi Valdés
A few more photos from the event can be found on Instagram.
3. There's no place like homophily.
Homophily: "the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others." I am simultaneously so guilty of and so critical of myself on this point. I want to get back to the key theme of the article - members of minority groups often experience strain and internal strife over their desired level of openness and engagement on a personal level in a professional space. Yes, we know that you're supposed to bring your best, authentic self to work. Yes, we know that sometimes we need reminders. Lastly, we also need to know that we're not alone in this struggle. If you've ever cut a "what did you do this weekend?" conversation short, or toned your activities down to something that you thought would be more relatable, you're not alone. If you've ever worn headphones at any point during a work day and upon receiving the question "what are you listening to?" you chose to answer anything other than, or some mitigated, generalized version of, what you were actually listening to to avoid extensive conversation or assumption, you're not alone.
If you've ever forged closer working relationships with fellow minorities than with non-minority colleagues for all of the reasons above, you are not alone. In fact, I'm right there with you. So, let's work on this together. Let's continue to encourage leadership at our respective companies to adopt some of the approaches the article mentions with respect to creating an inclusive workplace that makes employees of all walks of life feel comfortable and included. Let's encourage company culture that diversifies and includes different ways of networking beyond the happy hours and standard gatherings. Let's also challenge ourselves to share one more piece of our weekend than we usually would. To proudly state which artist we just saw in concert. To make it plain that we are who we are and that even in the working world, that is okay.
What are your thoughts? Do you feel like you're able to be 100% authentic at work? Do you feel more comfortable around colleagues that share the minority experience? Chat with me on Instagram or leave send me a message on my contact page!
Authors: Katherine W. Phillips, Tracy L. Dumas, Nancy P. Rothbard (March/April 2018)
Publication: Harvard Business Review
*As a friendly reminder, my views are my own. They are not the official views of my company or of anyone pictured with respect to the event in question.