Delzerine Duberry December 7 2023

Creating a culture of belonging: Is employee individuality & authenticity welcomed?

It is no secret that we are experiencing a time where the dynamics of those who represent the workforce are diverse and unique. Times change, technology advances, and the environment shifts, and as a society, we recognise how critical it is to allow individuals to be themselves both within and outside of the workplace. The workplace, however, remains a space where some individuals feel as though they cannot bring their authentic self to the workplace.

As humans we have two fundamental and competing needs: the desire to be unique and authentic, and the desire to be included, safe and represented. The former requires a leader who creates a working environment which looks to understand, respect, and values unique individual differences, which is easier said than done. Masking our unique differences is commonplace: 61% of people mask at work, more so if they're black (79%) or gay (83%). So rather than leveraging the difference, in most organisations people hide and conform with most employees and as a result they lose their individuality. What are people masking in your organisation? 

According to research, employees who can be authentic in their job are more likely to be satisfied. Improvement in employee attitudes, performance, and psychological wellbeing can all demonstrate this.             "When organisations prioritise employees' values, they win employees' trust and respect" -(Wirawan, Jufri and Saman, 2020.

For employees, a strong sense of community and shared vision allows differences to be respected and valued. whilst creating cohesion at the deeper level to ensure differences are harnessed to contribute towards achieving the same vision. So long as individuals feel that a community contributes positively to their sense of identity, they will remain a member of that community and want to help it thrive. 

What does it mean to be authentic at work? - Research suggests that authenticity at work is connected to feelings. This feeling allows employees to operate in accordance with their genuine values, beliefs, motivations, culture, and personality, among colleagues, managers, clients, and other stakeholders equally.

For me, being authentic at work means being able to bring my best self without the mask and fear that I'm going to be judged. With the right engagement tools and behavioural coaching, any organisation can cultivate an environment where authenticity is celebrated. This ideal environment that celebrates authenticity, to me, is a space where my colleagues and I, are free to bring together our similarities and differences whilst being respected and valued equally. My best self is hard-working and determined through all situations. But I can also be imperfect. Simultaneously I can succeed, and I can also make mistakes without feeling as though this will reflect my overall character. Being able to have a voice, to be seen, and to be understood, as best I can.  

What are the challenges organisations face in achieving authenticity? -  Before recognition of our individual differences, there was a general thought process in organisations, which contributed to the one size fits all policy that organisations are now actively steering away from. In the workplace this could be perceived in those who fall into the category of a diverse group, who may not ‘meet the mould’ of the ’typical’ professional. Visibility at work, being seen fully and accurately by others, is important for individuals who want to be their authentic self.  Research has shown that deeply entrenched racial residential segregation has contributed towards ethnic minorities often feeling as though they were hyper-visible, had to be vigilant, and could not be themselves in the workplace due to this indifference. Almost half of BAME employees say they feel they need to censor how much they tell their colleagues about themselves and their personal life, significantly higher than the 37% of white British employees who feel this way (CIPD, 2017). This can also be extended further to the challenges experienced through our gender, sexuality, and neurodiversity. Here is where the gap between professionalism and authenticity widens, for the minority individual to fit in and adjust their behaviour in the workplace.

For myself as a black woman, there tends to be an array of misjudgements and preconceptions that society has placed onto myself and others in this community which may trickle down into the workplace. Sharing my opinion or ideas may come across as being too loud, my passion and enthusiasm might come across as aggressive, if I wear my natural hair out - does this mean I look less professional than my other colleagues? These are all things that I feel I must consider and sometimes adapt, in order to fit in to some audiences and workplace situations. The promotion of being your authentic self could come at a cost for employees and organisations, if organisations do not nurture or foster an environment whereby presenting your authentic self is welcomed.

For the continuation of growth and exceptional performance, leaders should strive to foster a professional environment where individual differences are welcomed and valued, through reflective leadership and colleague engagement. Organisations could consider developing a diversity and wellbeing calendar to keep employees informed about initiatives, and events that they will enjoy celebrating or benefit from knowing more about. Organising colleague mixers at lunch hours can bring people together and celebrate the diversity within the teams. Personally, I enjoy taking part in culture awareness days, storytelling, and participating in workshops and courses that will help enrich my knowledge about individuals' differences that I might not be aware of.

In the age where we have access to so much information and learning materials, ignorance is a choice, and I would be doing myself a disservice if I did not embrace, nor understand how others choose to bring their authentic selves into the workplace.

Some questions for you to reflect on...

  • Think about the why? Why is the promotion of authenticity needed?

  • As a leader, are you allowing and creating an environment where yourself and those who you support are being their authentic selves?

  • If you surveyed those across your organisation about authenticity and individuals, how do you think they would respond?

Get in touch to find out how we can help.



Subscribe to insights from our blog here:

Would you like to know more?

How would you like to start a conversation?