The days when you had to put on a mask for work in the name of corporate conformity are over. They died with the wide-and-shiny neck tie, “kitchens" that looked like your dentist's office, and other bad memories from yesteryear's workplace.
Today's workplace trades on inclusivity, empowerment, teamwork, and—in a word—realness.
Whatever your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, it's not only yours to embrace, but your employer's. According to Deloitte's 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, 69% of executives say diversity and inclusion is an important issue. And that's smart—because it's good for business.
Recent research from Diversity Council Australia found that employees who work on inclusive teams are 10 times more likely to be highly effective than workers who don't. They were also found to be more satisfied in their work, and studies have proven that happy employees are more productive.
So, it looks like it's the perfect time to get real. Here are a few tips to make sure you can thrive as you at work.
Ask Upfront for a Diversity Onboarding
If you don't identify as a white male (no shade if you do), chances are you have questions when entering a new workplace. What's the policy to ensure women are paid as much as their male counterparts? Is there a mentorship program here and how can I find a mentor whose values align with my own? How can I help this company cultivate and hire diverse talent like myself?
Many reputable organizations will answer these as part of new-employee onboarding in the form of policies, videos, training, and general information. The goal should be to equip you with the knowledge and resources to work freely as your true self and ensure others can do the same.
If your new-hire briefing falls short of these expectations, don't let your questions stew. Ask them. Doing so doesn't mean you're anticipating some sort of institutionalized discrimination (why would you join the company in that case?), it just means you're curious and you're looking forward to being part of progressive solutions to today's workplace challenges.
Phrase questions to show that you're curious about something meaningful to you and it'll be easier to start the conversation: “I'm really passionate about women's issues, I'd love to know what you do here to make sure women have access to leadership opportunities and equal pay?"
Join an Organization, or Start One
Whether you're underrepresented at work or just have a really niche interest, joining a club—or starting one—is a great way to create space for the parts of you that don't fit neatly into your job description.
Find groups that empower you—whether they're creative or career development-oriented. The best part, clubs can fill voids if something you feel passionate about is not already reflected in your workplace. For example, if ladies aren't exactly running the show (yet), a women's group can be a great way to find support and mentorship. If people seem clueless when Pride rolls around, an LGBT+ alliance can change that.
If the group you're looking to join doesn't exist, consider starting it. Talk to HR or your manager and ask whether there's a formal process in place to secure funding.
Be Aware of Your Biases, and Wake Others Up to Theirs
For better or for worse, we all carry unconscious biases. They're woven into our minds from childhood and continue to proliferate in popular culture. These biases can affect our interpretations of and interactions with coworkers.
One of the best ways to be more self-actualized in the workplace is to help others be the same by granting them freedom from even small stereotypes and assumptions. Look into ways you can become more aware of your biases and spread the word to co-workers.
A few places to start: browse YouTube for bias exercises like this one, ask your colleagues for honest feedback, and pay close attention to your thoughts and reactions in groups (are you responding to hard facts and values, or assumptions and emotions?).
Grow Your Social Circle
Finally, it's easier to be yourself if you're among friends.
You can find them, but you may have to work for it. That means going to company events, grabbing coffee with new co-workers, switching your lunch crowd every so often, or hopping in new channels on Slack.
And try to connect with a range of coworkers, not just your immediate peers. You can learn from others who are different from you and who are in more senior or diverse roles. You may have to leave your comfort zone, but it's well worth it—you'll be more relaxed at work if you have a group of people supporting you.
Work should be inviting—not just because you like your work (although that's a big plus), but because you can be yourself while you're there. Whether your workplace is super progressive and has all the diversity and inclusion boxes checked, or you have to do some work to help get it there, use these tips to make your workday—and that of your co-workers’—more real.