How to be you: Three ways to boost authenticity

26 October 2017 -

Reetu KansalHiding the real you at work is never a wise or productive strategy. Here is one leader’s very honest account of how she found the strength to be authentic

Guest blogger Reetu Kansal CMgr FCMI

When I first stepped into the revered world of work, I got the worst advice ever: “If you want to be respected, leave your image at home. You are a woman. You are not white. If you want to succeed, create a persona for work. And stick with it.”

Admittedly I tried this for a long time as though I was wearing someone else’s shoes to avoid being stereotyped. I have had different personas that fit ‘great’ for a while, but it came at a cost.

It was exhausting to hide part of me. I was uncomfortable to say the least, and I could not sustain the façade. I was restless. I was setting myself up for failure.

Turning point

The world I had built around me came crumbling down when my company restructured and my job changed. It felt like a house of cards collapsing. But that was the very breath of fresh air I needed. This was my chance to restart.

What I realised was that who I bring to work defines my job. By bringing my authentic self to work, I have engaged with projects that I can add value to. I earned inclusion in projects at work that I feel extremely well-suited and valued for. I am feeling my best and delivering my best when I am myself, my-authentic-self, at work.

It all makes sense. Like most average British workers, I spend at least a third of my day and half of my waking life at work. It is no surprise that we are left more exhausted when we are pretending to be something that we are not. When we are not ourselves, we cannot expect to be recognised fully for our talents and competencies fully either.  

Are we taking cover?

A study by Deloitte introduced me to the concept of covering. The term “covering” was first used by sociologist Erving Goffman in the 1960s to describe individuals’ efforts to conceal a source of social stigma. The Deloitte report revealed that over 60% of their survey respondents admitted to cover at least one protected characteristic. These respondents included a mix of genders, ages, races, ethnicities as well as seniority within organisations that spanned ten distinct industries.

I found it particularly relevant that 67% of women of colour covered. CMI’s own Delivering Diversity research, which found that while 12.5% of the UK population are BAME, they hold just 6% of top management positions, may be relevant here.

Delivering Diversity: Race and ethnicity in the management pipeline [Report]

Getting real

At the beginning, getting real was tough. I had been hidden behind a mask for so long that I was scared to take it off. But once I did, things at work got much easier, my relationships have improved and I know what I want from a conversation or a project.

Authenticity builds trust with colleagues and within teams. My organisation receives the benefit of my full perspective. It has made me stronger rather than weaker. I feel more appreciated.

These issues with authenticity and covering are not simply skin deep. There are things we can do to help make our workplaces more authentic:

1. Recognise the issue

Before we can even deal with it, we need to recognise that there is an issue. It may not even present itself as an obvious issue, but if we are not benefiting from the whole of the individual, how much productivity are we potentially losing?

Speak to your employees, ask questions, and conduct surveys. It will not only inform you about intrinsic and extrinsic threats to a more balanced, high-performing organisation, but also shows your workforce that you care.

2. Celebrate individuality, celebrate individuals  

Ask your team members about their hobbies. I learned that birthdays and work anniversaries are important to my team and they appreciate it when I remember those dates. Find ways of making it about the person and the value they add to the organisation. It helps us to appreciate individuals for who they are, rather than what they are perceived to be.

3. Fix the “little” things

Ann Francke, CEO of CMI, urges fixing the “little” things to fix the big ones. Prevent the “broken window” by addressing gender and other discrimination early on. Educate your employees. A recent Unconscious Bias training within my organisation was invaluable in impacting how employees treat each other.

And a bonus strategy - start by bringing all of you to work. Be an authenticity champion. Start by celebrating you.

Reetu Kansal is a Chartered Manager and a fellow of CMI

CMI’s recent Delivering Diversity report found that increasing the participation of BAME managers could be worth £24bn a year to British business

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