As a part of Collibra’s You Are Included initiative for Pride month, we asked several members of our Collibra Pride Community about their thoughts on authenticity. To celebrate LGBTQIA+ pride, read on to see how Collibrians feel about authenticity, its impact on the workplace, and how organizations can foster employee authenticity.
How do you define authenticity?
Michael: I define authenticity as not being afraid to be your true self no matter what the circumstances or situation at hand are.
Carlos: Authenticity to me is showing up in any space and being unapologetically yourself. There is a level of non-filtration that comes with showing your true self and being fearless enough to show other people..
Joe: For me, authenticity indicates that someone is being their “true” selves. In other words, the core components of their identity (i.e. romantic orientation, religion, personal interests, etc.) are not hidden. In my opinion, people are their authentic selves in two circumstances: 1) when they feel they are in a safe environment, or 2) when they don’t care about what others think or what repercussions will result from them being their authentic selves.
Stephane: I had to look for the exact definition for inspiration: “The quality of being of being real or true”. It does not mean to me that one needs to expose in complete transparency their life, personal belief or opinions, but what is shared is real or true!
Describe a time when you felt like you couldn’t be your authentic self in the workplace.
Michele: Different workplace and years ago. Early 90’s to be exact. I sat in a meeting where advancement was discussed for a subordinate. The best candidate was a gay female that leaned in to wearing more masculine attire. That attire decision prevented her from a massive career enhancing promotion. The conversation that happened at the table was terrible. Sadder still, I sat on that hiring committee, defended her skillset, but did not instigate the broader conversation. I did not have to. They clearly understood she was the best. They just could not get over her attire. I am not making any excuses, but this was not even a customer facing role. Pure back-of-house. I should have defended her more aggressively. Clearly, it made an impression. Bias, conscious or otherwise, existed even within our own community, within me. I stayed relatively silent. I actually consider this meeting one of my major failures as a people manager. I NEVER let that happen again.
Melissa: I found the experience of talking about my wedding plans in the office challenging at times. Colleagues who didn’t know who I was getting married to would say, ‘I’ve heard you’re getting married, congrats. Who’s the lucky guy?’. Somebody else said: ‘Congratulations on your engagement, are you looking forward to life with your husband-to-be!’ I wouldn’t know how to respond to these statements in such a public setting, and so I’d move the conversation on or respond with something generic. The emotional tax of having to explain, and then experience the reactions, was difficult. It taught me to ask broader questions in similar situations, and be cautious of making assumptions.
Michael: My first job was at a country club as a caddy and I have spent my life playing golf. Not until my late 20s did I feel comfortable being myself on the course. I felt the weight of acting heteronormative and and overly masculine to feel comfortable and safe.
Describe a time where you felt like you could be your authentic self in the workplace.
Alex: I remember interviewing for Collibra and informing [the recruiter] that my legal name does not yet match with my actual name. I was a bit apprehensive to have to explain it and cause a hassle. [My recruiter] immediately put my fears at rest and it felt incredibly validating.
Melissa: I can be my authentic self at Collibra. When I joined, I was amazed at the representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. It made me feel at home as a member of the community because I knew there would be a strong sense of allyship and I wouldn’t have to ‘censor’ myself, which is important. At Collibra, we celebrate the Pride community and ensure that the community is visible. Our culture enables me to be myself and I am very proud to work here. Collibrians are very friendly and open people.
Joe: Even though it’s such a small action, every time my colleagues treat my relationship like a “normal” heterosexual relationship, I feel a small burst of joy and validation. I grew up in an environment where gay relationships were mocked and made fun of, and a part of that will always be ingrained in me.
How does authenticity impact the workplace?
Rafael: It’s one less thing to worry about. We talk a lot about cognitive load with the teams, where we want them to focus on what’s important in order to have better flow on delivering good products. If you need to constantly hide/mask yourself, it is one extra thing to worry about during your whole day, and this massively increases your cognitive load.
Michele: Living two lives would be my title for this section. I had my personal life and I had my business life. On the surface it does not sound different. However if you consider a typical “water-cooler” conversation it may become clearer. The discussion typically starts with “what did you do this weekend?” Most people would answer that question with EXACTLY what they did that weekend. I could not. I had to make something up or worse, exclude Karen from the conversation. That was exhausting. It took time away from the work that needed to be done. It decreased my productivity, period. Time and enlightenment have helped. I honestly could give two cents about what anyone else thinks now. The good news is that for the most part I do not have to. Still work to be done, but I have evolved. Everyone else needs to make that leap. Most have at Collibra.
Alex: Google famously ran a study a few years ago to analyze why some teams were performing better than others and found the main key for success was Psychological safety. I don’t believe you can achieve this without the ability to be 100% yourself every single day with your direct colleagues.
How can we create safe spaces in the workplace in order for authenticity to thrive?
Stephane: Create a respectful and tolerant work environment, make these values public and widely communicated, and act if they are not enforced or followed. (I think this is the case at Collibra, but always good to check and keep ourselves honest)
Carlos: The creation of safe spaces only happens when companies prioritize the mental and emotional health of their employees through benefits, career development, and employee resource group support.
Rafael: I think our DEI efforts are great, having people in leadership roles bringing the values to the rest of the company and sharing a bit of your personal life. One example is when going on holiday, mention “I’m going with my boyfriend to <place>, we are looking forward to taking a break”. Talking openly like this gives other people the opportunity to be authentic.