Authenticity in Corporate America: How to Show Up More Fully As Yourself
One of the most discussed topics in minority, professional circles is the idea of leaving a part of ourselves at the door as we enter into the workplace. As a Black or Brown professional woman, you likely have experienced moments where you felt you couldn’t truly be yourself at work. You may find yourself carefully selecting every word, hobby, musical taste, or even facial expression, much like clothing in your closet, deciding which ones are worthy of being shared with your colleagues. Of course, as professionals, there are things we all must do to adhere to the code of conduct at our companies. But it’s more than that.
I remember at 20, very early in my career, we were at a work seminar and the facilitator was doing one of those “tell me your name, where you are from, etc” ice breaker exercises. She free-styled at the end, adding, “also, tell us what your first concert was.”
I instantly panicked, feeling the familiar flutter in my stomach. My first concert had been a Ludacris concert, my freshman year of college. Here I was, surrounded by literally all White professionals in their 40s and 50s, whose responses ran the gamut of Country and Classic Rock music icons. Should I be honest? Would they think it was too stereotypical? Would they even know who Luda was?
While most employers are still in the dark, in many modern workplaces, employers are now aware of this phenomenon and are encouraging their employees to “bring their whole selves to work.” According to the Harvard Business Review, employees report higher levels of job satisfaction, engagement and overall job performance when they are encouraged to be authentic.
Regardless of where your company is on the spectrum, reflect deeply on the following questions:
Why do I feel I cannot fully be myself? Have I tried? Have I been explicitly discouraged from it, or is it uncomfortable because I am in the minority?
If you are explicitly discouraged from being yourself, you may need to reassess whether this is the right environment for you.
Otherwise, if you would like to dip your toe in the pool of fuller self-expression at work, here are a few ways to bring more of yourself into the office:
Bring Your Sense of Style
Style is one of the most powerful forms of self-expression. However, many of us in Corporate careers must abide by a dress code, often business casual. If so, introducing a pop of color with your lipstick, nail polish or accessories can make a difference. Even when I was entry level at a conservative “Big 4” Accounting firm, I found that wearing a brighter-colored nail polish, a flowery blouse with my skirt suit or braids pulled back, were ways for me to introduce a bit of my personality. The same goes for your workspace. Bringing in elements that ground you, whether it’s pictures, plants, memorabilia, etc. are clever tips for fully showing up as you.
Bring Your Voice
In my recent article, How to Take Up More Space at Work, I talk about the importance of voicing our opinions. Most companies have policies that restrict us from openly discussing politics or religion in the workplace. However, it is critical to practice sharing your opinion, no matter how unpopular, on other topics. As a Black, Nigerian woman, I often found that my world view was different from most of my colleagues. As a result, it was common for me to see things from a different, often more global perspective. Sharing my thoughts, especially when they were business related not only affirmed me as a unique member of the team, but also increased the value I provided to my employer.
“Shame on us if we see wrong being done and we say nothing because we are afraid.” – Michelle Obama on Impostor syndrome
It is also okay to steer the conversation to areas we want to discuss, as opposed to always letting someone drive the dialogue. This may be difficult when you are the minority, but I assure you, the inner pleasure and confidence derived from speaking up is often well worth it.
Bring Your Wellness Non-Negotiables
One of my favorite tips on how to bring your whole self to work is by communicating your deal-breakers when it comes to your wellness. Does your boss know the things you must have to thrive and continue to produce results? Do you need to leave early at least one day a week? Do you to work from home on certain days of the month? Do you need to go to the gym, evening classes, or kids’ games after work? We all have one or two things that really make the difference. Without them you are an unproductive, dissatisfied, disengaged, stressed out mess. Make sure to share these upfront.
Bring Your Feminine Energy
In a society that is deeply rooted in patriarchy and masculinity, it can be difficult to be our authentic feminine selves in the board rooms. Feminine energy is often associated with words such as feeling (vs thinking), intuition (vs logic), attraction (vs assertion), collective (vs individual), flexible (vs rigid), process (vs outcome), etc.
Feminine power isn’t something we go out and acquire; it’s already within us. It’s something we become willing to experience. Something to admit we have. – Marianne Williamson
In today’s world where masculine energy is regarded as synonymous with business and leadership savvy, it can be challenging to allow ourselves to operate from our authentic feminine space. However, many companies are becoming aware of the true power of the feminine, even re-branding it as emotional intelligence.
Trying to continuously force-fit yourself into this mold will deplete yourself in the process. Instead begin to use your innate energies within your work and see how rewarding and productive this can be.
I am extremely passionate about this topic. Contact us for more practical ways to bring your feminine energies into Corporate workspace.
Intelle is career coaching for Black, Millennial women in Corporate careers. Visit us at www.intelle.us to get started.
“Most Employees Feel Authentic at Work, But It Takes Time.” Harvard Business Review. 2016