I have a confession to make: I haven’t always been comfortable with being my authentic self at work. When I was building my career in the ‘80s and ‘90s, bringing your whole self to work wasn’t how you got ahead, especially as a woman of color. As a working mom, I never would have made it to where I am today if I admitted to my manager that my sick kid was the reason I needed to take time off, or I couldn’t attend a client dinner because of parent-teacher conferences.
Thankfully, workforce norms have evolved over the course of my career, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing the impact of that evolution in real time. Today, I see women not only taking up space professionally, but doing so authentically. More women than ever before are not only entering the workforce, but excelling in their careers while balancing families, passion projects, and self-care. Today, we actively tell managers to lead with empathy and invest in their team and staff, and we tell women to be unapologetically honest about who they are and how they show up at work.
What can you do as a leader to foster a culture of authenticity in your workplace? Here are three concrete steps you can take to promote a more inclusive and authentic work environment.
The 3Cs of Leading Authentic Workplaces
- Challenge your Assumptions – When you think about the term ‘professionalism’, what comes to mind? Do you have a specific image of what it means to be professional? Maybe in your organization it means only wearing dark suits or styling your hair a certain way. Perhaps it means always staying late to finish projects, or never turning down a chance to network or socialize with clients. Ask yourself why you associate these traits and behaviors with professionalism. Often, assumptions of professionalism are based off the experiences of just one group, without considering the diversity of the workforce and can be culturally biased. These assumptions frequently go unchecked, and are taken for granted as the norm.
- Consider the Experiences of your Staff – Now, think about the experiences of your staff who may have to work harder to meet these standards. It may be easier for people with straight hair to achieve a style you consider to be professional than those with curly or coily hair. It’s easier for people without children or caretaking responsibilities to work late and attend work social events. Even today, women still spend more time on childrearing and domestic responsibilities than men, whether or not they have a career.
- Cultivate your own Definition of Authentic Professionalism – As a leader in your organization, your staff will look to you and the example you set. When you model behavior that feels authentic to you, teams will take notice. If you work in an environment where constantly working late is the norm, what would happen if you intentionally embraced summer Fridays and invited your team to do the same? If you told your team you would be leaving at 3pm on Fridays in August to spend more time with your family, what message would that send about being professional at your organization?
On August 4th, I’m thrilled to be partnering with Twilio for a panel discussion about celebrating authenticity in the workplace, and I hope you’ll join us. Please click here to register for this engaging and insightful conversation.