Bring Your ‘Self’ to Workday: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace
Black. Woman. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Sister. American. West Indian. Professional. Urban. Suburban. Socialite. Introvert. Friend. Colleague. Mentor. Mentee…These are just some of the pieces of me. Often times, one weighs more than the other; sometimes I trade one for another, and other times, I'm representing more than one piece of myself. This is intersectionality. The idea that we exist above labels, the concept that we can be and can care about more than one thing; even when they seem to conflict. However, because we have multiple versions of ourselves, how do we discern what and how much of it we can bring to the workplace?
The phenomenon of intersectionality is becoming more widely recognized, we are seeing more and more that people can hold on to roles and ideals while living in a completely different version of themselves. It’s like society is finally coming to terms with the fact that we can identify or be passionate about more than one thing at once.
At the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I remember feeling a sense of conflict. I reject police brutality with all my being, and I wanted to support social justice. Simultaneously, my husband had just became a police officer, and I feared for his safety. I felt a sense of an identity crisis because I couldn't go around on my NWA tip, and I couldn't get with the Blue Lives Matter trope; worst yet being 'in the middle' is often viewed worse than choosing sides. I had to find my own middle ground on an issue that was so polarized at the time.
At work, I struggled to keep it together; Alton Sterling, Philando Castile – those were the names and lives that played in my head. Concurrently, my peers were creating Bachelorette Brackets. (Bachelorette Brackets, it’s the ‘March Madness’ but for ABC’s hit tv show, The Bachelorette). It didn’t feel fair, I was living in torment, while others were blissfully in oblivion. This resulted in reflection. As hard as it was for me, I couldn’t help but think how hard it was for my husband. In uniform, he is a police officer. In streetwear, he is just a black man.However, to me, he was still a police officer but in streetwear, because I still saw a man that won’t sit with his back to the door, or always evaluated points of entry and exits when we’re out leisurely; a man that would always err on the side of safety and caution. He was (and still is) my Batman, living with different versions of himself.
Having multiple versions of oneself, sometimes feels like managing different identities. Can we really bring it all to work? Should we? Workplaces are evolving, especially with startup companies leading with lifestyle elements in the workplace (i.e. fully stocked pantries, gym on site, day care, dog-friendly office). In tandem organizations are attempting efforts to be more inclusive, and there's a newfound recognition to create a culture where people can “bring their true selves to work". To that I say, which true self?
For many Black people, the self we bring to work, is the learned behaviors of navigating work culture through the structure and authority of school systems. For example, we tend to use our “School English” to which there are high regards for being "articulate", “well spoken” or"smart", almost like there was a different expectation. Outside of work; you’ll get hit with the AAVE, the jokes, the storytelling, memes and GIFs, etc. Code switching, a common concept among Black folks where we are taught not to bring our whole selves to places of work, for having the mere elements that make us who we are, be deemed as unprofessional. It goes beyond speech. It trickles into multiple facets of our lives, borderline infiltrating. There are people that won’t use their given names in their place of work. There are those that feel the need to dress-up, even on dress-down days. There's still that call to action to cover up the means in which we express ourselves, like tattoos and piercings, avoiding bold colors, wearing straight hair, the list goes on. While on the flip side, white social media influencers can get paid obnoxious amounts of money for blackfishing, appropriating Black culture by using make-up and hairstyles to look like women of color, very similar to the infamous Rachel Dolezal.
The double standard adds to the frustration that Black culture is only deemed good when white people participate; where as,we are simply looking for acknowledgement and acceptance of who we are. But for many people that have codeswitched for so long, in which its now ingrained in their being. You can say they’ve evolved into this new version of themselves, or one can argue that they’ve lost their sense of self. While I defer to the experts, as I’m not a Philosopher, I do feel to beg again, which self is true to bring to work?
Regardless of which self you present, judgement and bias are inevitable. While some unconscious and some blatant, we tend to form opinions by the name on the Resume, the ethnicity of the Interviewee, the dialect of the Employee, or the attire of the Leader.
DEI, has been a strong theme as of late, and I’d hate to call it a trend, but we know how this goes: Company A ends up on the news. Said company did something insensitive, racist, or phobic. The public reacts. The company makes a 'diversity hire' and implores unconscious bias training. Repeat. This is the cycle we’ve witnessed over the past couple of years.
The elephant in the room has always been, why are companies reacting instead of being proactive? If varying perspectives were considered, and at the head of decision-making, there would be less backlash, therefore less ‘cancel-culture’. At the end of the day, it is good business to be a good business, and organizations need to determine and understand how they can create a culture where people matter.
Considering we tend to spend more time at work than anywhere else, how can the workplace environment be shaped to be more diverse and inclusive, therefore equitable?
Treat your employees the way you want to be treated.
Does everyone have a seat at the table? Have all voices been considered in decision-making? Is there a space for employees to bring forward their own ideas? #RepresentationMatters
Consult with reputable outside sources to implore cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias training to prevent incidents, not cure them.
Redact names on resumes. They’re not needed to evaluate qualifications.
Reduce barriers of entry for applications (i.e. Does this role really need an Ivy League education to get the job done?)
Promote work-life balance with better pay, flexible hours, remote working.
Create an environment for whole selves, (i.e. breastfeeding rooms with proper refrigeration, unisex bathrooms, pronoun preference)
Promote Employee Resource Groups. (i.e. LGBTQ Groups, Women at Work, Working Families, Ethnicity Groups, Lifestyle Groups)
Seek Mentees; make professional development a priority
Ask, and Listen.
Speak up, and speak out. Create or utilize Employee Resource Groups to inspire change.
Seek Mentors; make professional growth a priority.
Be seen. “If you’re not offered a seat at the table, bring a folding chair" – Shirley Chisholm
Respect colleagues' ethnicities, religious holidays and affiliations, and customs
Determine your value, ask for what you deserve; nothing more and nothing less.
These are just some examples of actions we can take to be better Leaders and Employees. It’s important that both functions play their part for the workplace environment to be more productive and less toxic. While it may be nearly impossible to rid bias, we can strive to learn more about each other and to reduce the speed in which we form opinions. Let’s talk to each other, welcome each other, and learn from each other. Invite your whole self to your settings or put forward whichever identity of yourself you choose. The way we speak, dress, our name, where we come from, or live now, does not define us. Ultimately, how we treat others is what makes us who we are.