Create an Inclusive Culture to Enable People to Be Themselves

Create an Inclusive Culture to Enable People to Be Themselves

I recently watched writer Jodi-Ann Burey deliver a TED Talk that addressed what she calls the “myth of bringing your full, authentic self to work”. One of her points was that it’s much easier to be who you are when who you are is all around you. If you’re the first, the only, or the different, it’s simply too risky. So, you wear a costume and are not yourself – authentic or not.

Yet, in an effort to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, many companies suggest that they want people to bring their authentic selves to work. They want passionate people with diverse, fresh perspectives who challenge the old ways of thinking. But what can you do to create a truly inclusive culture in which people feel safe to be themselves?

Be an authentic leader.

Authenticity starts at the top. Whether you’re leading a company, department or project team, you have to bring your authentic self to the workplace if you expect others to do the same. People want to work for someone they feel they know and trust, and your authenticity will attract people and build their trust.

I have the privilege to work with a leader of a corporate division with approximately 2,500 professionals, who is open about being gay. In fact, during Pride Month last year he wrote a blog that included a photo of him with his husband. Having been with the company for nearly 30 years, he has been “out and proud” at work for all that time. He says he felt he could openly share his experiences and strives to make others feel safe to be themselves in the work environment.

In a Forbes article about how to be your authentic self at work, the author stressed that authentic leaders must know themselves well and not try to be someone they’re not. Through their own authenticity, they make it safe for others to be themselves at work, too.

Tell stories.

Companies have multiple communication channels to enable different voices to be heard. Podcasts, town halls, articles, blogs and videos provide the opportunity for employees to tell their stories. When people listen to personal accounts from their colleagues, they are likely to learn new things and build a better understanding of the challenges that other people face.

One of the most impactful communications I heard recently was a series of podcasts from Black professionals relating incidents of racism that they’ve faced in their lives. These were employees sharing their stories with other employees. For some, it was a shared experience. For others, it was a chance to understand the sense of risk that others have to take to be their authentic selves.

Share cultures.

I worked for a company with about 1,000 employees, 10 percent of whom were Chinese American. Many of these colleagues, especially ones who grew up in China, would congregate only with each other for breaks and lunch. However, each year they would celebrate the Chinese New Year at work by making dumplings and hosting a pot-luck lunch. Everyone was invited to join in the activities, and by doing so, these colleagues offered a glimpse into their heritage and a chance to get to know more about them. I also learned how to make dumplings and enjoyed food that I wasn’t getting at my local Chinese restaurant.

Everybody has elements of their culture or upbringing that they can share. There are numerous national or international awareness celebrations, such as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month, that provide opportunities to acknowledge our uniqueness. You don’t have to commit to pot-luck lunches, but these special days and months offer a platform to share and acknowledge the different cultures that exist within our organizations.

My challenge to you is to find ways to promote a culture of open, honest and positive communication, with a desire to share and to listen. The more people within your organization who come to work as their authentic selves, the more that others will be encouraged to take the risk and leave their costumes behind.

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