Being Your Authentic Self at Work

Diversity has been proven to be a competitive advantage in the workplace, but diversity hiring initiatives are only the first step. 

In order to increase and maintain diversity in an organization, a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) is critical. On one of our amazing Thursdays with ThirdPath podcasts, we had two of our fantastic board members, both experts in DEI, talk about the links between work-life integration and DEI. 

Tonya Horton shared that focusing on DEI in the workplace allows workers to better integrate life and work, and lets them be more of their authentic selves at work. Here are some of the definitions she shared on the podcast: 

  • Diversity is about representation: your gender, race, ethnicity – the categories of representation are infinite. 
  • Equity is about outcomes. Equity relates to your ability to succeed that is not dependent on your race or your socio-economic status and it isn’t dependent on your access to resources.
  • Inclusion is about culture and experience; it’s what makes you feel like you are part of the organization.
  • Belonging is about feeling safe and secure to be your authentic self at work. 

So how does an organization make a commitment to DEI&B? Tonya argues: real metrics, measurable goals and accountability are all essential. By doing this, instead of “random acts of DEI”, organizations can become very intentional around their goals, including around hiring, on-boarding, and measuring for results. 

At Tonya’s former organization, the focus has been on conscious inclusion. Tonya explains that during the hiring process, the last interview is a culture interview. It gives both parties a chance to make sure they are aligned with the organization’s DEI&B goals.

Her former organization has also seen measurable progress. In part, she credits the use of Affinity Groups in their success. It started with Staff of Color and Working Parents groups, and has expanded to include LatinX, Asian, African descent and Black, Black males, LGBTQIA+, and Faith-based Affinity Groups. Staff members who participate in Affinity Groups self-report significantly higher levels of belonging on their company-wide bi-annual surveys. 

Inclusive companies require leaders who welcome feedback from their employees and who take it seriously (like their bi-annual surveys). And it’s important to have a set protocol for how to report discrimination and have enforced consequences for such behavior. Your company’s culture will be defined by the worst behavior that is tolerated, and you risk losing diversity because of what you fail to act on. 

You can also risk losing diversity by assuming everyone in your organization is “kindred” — that they see things in the same way. Tonya explained:

“Once you get to a critical mass of diversity in your organization it puts pressure on the organization to respond differently and if you don’t respond differently the people will leave, the diversity will leave, and you’ll have this constant revolving door of staff members in and out of your organization because your system hasn’t changed.”

Tonya has seen significant, measurable change during her time working there. 

In contrast, Ellen Ostrow discussed how the “ideal worker norm” is still strong in the law industry. The ideal worker is consciously, or unconsciously, seen as a white, male, able-bodied employee without any family obligations. She further clarified:

“Law firms are not inclusive. Instead, they require that people conform and assimilate to the existing culture … as a profession, people also tend to be very armored and guarded. There is a big separation between who you are at work and who you are outside at work.”

Given the way the world is changing, Ellen even wonders if some of the white men don’t feel psychologically safe in these environments.

However, with over 20 years dedicated to making change in the profession of law, Ellen has also seen some success stories – both at the personal and organizational level. And when asked what people can do to promote more change around DEI, Ellen talked about the importance of understanding our own agency.  Here are her suggestions for how to do this:

–          Understand the wide range of benefits that diversity brings to our lives

–          Learn how to truly be allies to people who are different than us

–          Learn how to interrupt bias when we see it

–          Avoid living in a mono-cultural world so we can put these ideas into action

Tonya and Ellen also talked about the links between DEI and work-life integration. For example Tonya’s organization now offers a wide range of flexible schedules, and she commented, “It’s been amazing how many people have come to us around these different arrangements.”

In the next ten years, Gen Z will also comprise the majority of the workforce. Gen Z is not only the most diverse generation, they also highly value diversity in the workplace, with 79% of new graduates ranking a diverse workplace as “very important.”

Click on the below Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar with Tonya Horton and Ellen Ostrow, and learn how you can reap the benefits of DEI and truly create a sense of belonging where a diverse employee base knows they can speak up, be heard, and be their authentic selves.

Posted in