Business literature is replete with the importance of authenticity and transparency as key requirements for leadership. Yet, for many people of color and women, being authentic and transparent can be challenging. We remain unsure and/or untrusting that our workplaces will embrace and accept our authentic, true selves. This hooks those unconscious, internalized cultural archetypes that have taught us that being transparent leads to vulnerability, whose negative impact we can’t control. We often resort to wearing our masks, as a means of self-protection and gaining acceptance. This was confirmed in a recent study that reported 83 percent of LGB individuals, 79 percent of Blacks, 67 percent of women of color, 66 percent of women and 63 percent of Hispanics consistently covered in their workplace vs. 44 percent of White straight males. [“Uncovering Talent: A New Model of Inclusion” DeLoitte . 2013].
You might have noticed in the opening paragraph that I used “our.” This is because I can relate to the challenges of authenticity and transparency as an African-American woman, who is a trained Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist, having consulted with Fortune 500 companies for almost 30 years. In my early career, I practiced “masking”, i.e. an earlier form of “covering.” Two years into my first corporate assignment, it took my White male mentor to force me to face my truth. He shared with me some painful feedback, calling me out for allowing him to only see a part of me. In essence, he called me an ethnic phony, because I chose to only show up “fully Black” with my inner circle of Black friends. With him I was culturally vanilla. I was shocked for two reasons. First, I thought I was adept at masking my “blackness” at work, only to recognize the only person I had fooled was myself. Second, I was shocked and scared that my mentor had the courage to confront me, allowing me no place to hide. It was clear that I was risking this important mentoring relationship and that he would accept nothing less from me than a mutually transparent and culturally authentic relationship. Compounding this emotional roller coaster was my realization that I had accepted being “a stigmatized minority” vs. celebrating, honoring and leveraging my own ethnicity/race.
This painful experience with my mentor was transformative. I can NOW speak from personal experience of the FREEDOM of walking in one’s cultural authenticity, being comfortable in your own skin and providing others the pleasure of experiencing all facets of the total me. It wasn’t easy getting there. Now that I’m here, there’s no turning back and it is truly empowering.
My “authentic” and “transparent” awakening happened over 30 years ago. Yet, the data from Deloitte’ s 2013 report which highlighted the significance of “covering” for Multicultural individuals and women, was gathered just two years ago. Clearly, authentic leadership and transparency at all levels remains one of the biggest challenges for inclusion in today’s workplaces. It has become even more challenging, because of the globalization of the workforce and the expanded categories constituting diverse cohorts, such as LGBTQ, people with disabilities and others. The opportunity, or challenge, is for organizations to create a culturally receptive environment; equip their senior leadership, managers, supervisors, HR and diversity practitioners to support Multicultural and female employees to believe and practice bringing their whole selves to work. The other BIG opportunity is for Multicultural individuals and women to acknowledge and address our own fears; recognizing the beauty and advantage of our diversity, in helping organizations drive to success and promote employee engagement by increasing inclusion.
The following five recommendations for addressing the intersections of CAMWR (Cultural Authenticity, Masking, Work Relationships)™, have proven effective:
1. Familiarize yourself with your Cultural Archetypes
Everyone has Cultural Archetypes. These are race based cultural lessons, passed on generationally, residing in your cultural DNA. They exist to educate and protect; are neither good or bad, they just are. Your task is to discern if they trigger affirming/empowering behaviors, or act as deraillers. (Refer to Dr. Carl Jung’s research for insights on Archetypes)
2. Create Your Private Authenticity Checklist
Write three (3) separate sentences, each starting with:
I am being my authentic self at work when I ________________.
Write three (3) separate sentences, each starting with:
I am being my un-authentic self when I ____________________.
Ask yourself after each set of 3 questions:
What does my transparency buy me?
When I’m not transparent, what does that buy me?
3. Explore “Masking”: Face your own truth
Review the Deloitte study (Uncovering Talent: A New Model of Inclusion. Deloitte 2013).
In your private space, ask yourself,
“Do I mask (i.e. cover) my Cultural Authenticity?”
If you answer “yes”, then ask yourself, “ Which types of “covering” do I use most frequently?
- Appearance-based: Altering physical aspects of yourself and their presentation/style to blend and Fit-in
- Affiliation Based: Disassociating from behaviors and/or stereotypes that represent your race/ethnic identity;
- Advocacy-based: Unwillingness to stand up and defend your race/ethnic group;
- Association-Based: Reluctance to associate and be identified with your race/ethnic group.
4. Create Your Story
In 700 words or less, write your story, incorporating the insights that you gained from recommendations 1-3. The story should have a beginning, middle and end. It should also answer, “Why this story matters”.
5. Share Your Story
Identify 3 people in the workplace, you want to share your story with. I am suggesting as the 3 people: your immediate supervisor, mentor/coach and peer.
Of course, I would like for you to share your story with me. Please send your story to: firstname.lastname@example.org