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  • Nicole Stibbe

Looking for Authenticity? Here’s Why Your Employees Will Not Bring Their Authentic Self To Work

We focus on enhancing belonging in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) space. And it’s no surprise that belonging is often closely tied to how authentic employees feel they can be in the workplace. When I hold space for employees in focus groups, I often ask, “What does EDI/belonging mean to you?” The overwhelming majority usually respond with some variation of “feeling empowered to be my authentic self.” This response aligns with employers who tell me their goal with EDI is to ensure their employees feel safe enough to bring their authentic selves to work.

But what does it actually mean to be your authentic self? And if employees and employers share the same goal of increasing authenticity and belonging, why do 56% of employees feel they can’t bring their whole selves to work?

What does it mean to be your authentic self?

We can look to Brene Brown for a mainstream definition of authenticity. As her research in authenticity and vulnerability gained popularity in the past few years, we see her describe authenticity as: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

Following logic with this definition, if authenticity is a choice, it’s safe to assume people need to feel safe enough to choose to be authentic. The duty of creating safe environments falls to employers. Employees need to feel they can share perspectives, thoughts, and concerns without repercussions--to be their authentic selves without repercussions.

Who has traditionally been allowed to be their authentic selves?

So, your company encourages authenticity, but does it really apply to all employees? It’s important to examine your policies and culture to see if everyone will feel welcome. Traditionally, employers encourage authenticity with a caveat– “be your authentic self as long as it aligns with our culture.” This means that policies, by default, often favour cis, heteronormative, Western norms, automatically deterring people who don’t fit the script, from being their authentic selves.

How can I ensure my employees feel like they can be their authentic selves?

There are several aspects/ways to encourage people to bring their authentic selves to work. I encourage you to reflect on the questions below to better evaluate if your employees feel like they can be their authentic selves:

  • Does my company provide safe spaces for employees? This includes physical but also psychologically safe spaces.

  • Does my company practice transparency? Review company policies and ensure their contents are clearly communicated and wholly inclusive.

  • Do my company leaders lead by example? Leaders set the tone for company culture, so ensuring they conduct themselves in ways that make people feel safe and valued and intentionally promote vulnerability and empathy is essential.

  • Has my company conducted an EDI gap analysis? Gap analyses help identify policies and procedures that work against EDI values and ultimately lead to exclusion. Looking to have a gap analysis conducted? Learn more here.

  • Does my company allow flexible policies/procedures that promote an inclusive culture? An example of this may be identifying policies or practices that do not support using personal pronouns, disability accommodations, etc.

  • Does my company create a listening environment? Ensuring your company culture encourages people to voice their ideas and concerns and feel heard without judgment or fear of repercussions is crucial.

  • Does my company respect employees' boundaries? The reality is that even in the most inclusive companies, not everyone will want to be their authentic selves at work. Respecting personal boundaries is a part of good company culture and encourages an overall sense of authenticity.

The answers to these questions may be challenging to identify. Often, companies bring in a third party to collect honest employee feedback and conduct company-wide analyses to identify pain points holding them back from a truly inclusive culture where all employees feel they can be their authentic selves. With some introspection and the proper assistance, you can level up your company culture and increase employee satisfaction.

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