“Bring your whole self to work” — But Do We Mean It?
Sound familiar? Most likely, as this all too commonly used moniker has been adopted by organizations in their attempts to attract and retain the best talent. But is it really true? Or is it nothing more than a vapid platitude? The compounding events of 2020 and 2021 suggest the latter.
Simply put, 2020 was a lot.
First, our lives were brought to a collective pause by a global pandemic; a foe we have yet to defeat. Then came the devastating murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, which galvanized a racial reckoning at a magnitude many of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Not to mention an election year, which only further illuminated the immense chasm in our country.
These events culminated in our well-meaning work places, where the distance between work and home, personal and professional, became inextricable. Employers were forced to grapple with, and take a position on, events that were deeply impacting their professional communities.
A recent report by the US Department of Labor stated that throughout April, May and June, 11.5 million people quit their jobs. And we haven’t seen the last of it.
Among the multitude of things 2020 reminded us, one theme remains particularly poignant: life is short, and you aren’t guaranteed another breath. On average, a person will spend 1/3 of their lives at work. Do we want to spend such a significant amount of time in environments where we don’t feel seen, valued, or cared for?
The Great Resignation points to a resounding no.
“Bring your whole self to work” means vastly different things to different people. This particularly holds true for those from underrepresented identity groups in the workplace. When you’re one of the few, or one of the only, you’re likely familiar with unspoken cultural demands like assimilation, codeswitching, or bearing the burden of responsibility for the well-being of the majority culture; all while trying to maintain a level of high performance at your day job.
This isn’t sustainable. It has created unenjoyable or untenable work environments. The employee experience suffers and burnout levels are at all-time highs. Given the premium organizations are currently putting on “hiring Black & Brown talent,” something must change.
I quit my day job in May. The appeal of a six figure salary and the semblance of security were no longer enough to keep me playing small, or shelving my authentic self. As a result, I left and founded The Courage Collective, a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion consultancy designed to help organizations create cultures of true belonging, acceptance, and authenticity.
Dr. Crystal Jones posits that, “There’s a big difference between the ideas ‘All are welcome here’, and ‘This was created with you in mind’…”, the latter of which creates vibrant and engaging environments in which people feel seen, valued and fulfilled.
When we think about DE&I work , it’s not just about a one-and-done unconscious bias training or trying to hire more Black & Brown folks (though, to be clear, representation most certainly does matter). It’s about creating cultures of true belonging and humanizing the work environment in a way that creates cultures that are truly good for people. And their whole selves.
This work must be holistic, integrated, intentional and sustainable. It has to be embedded across the entirety of the Employee Journey — pre-employment, during employment, and post-employment.
It requires time, resources, and willingness; a willingness to reimagine the systems, policies, and processes that have covertly and overtly inhibited meaningful growth and progress for underrepresented identity groups.
Most importantly, it requires Courage to honestly evaluate where you are (as an organization), and take the necessary steps to get to where you want to be.
For the organizations who are brave enough to actually do the work, “bring your whole self to work” might be possible for the diverse and dynamic employees you are trying to attract and retain.
People are realizing their power and prioritizing their well-being. If they can’t bring their whole, authentic selves to work with you, it’s likely that they’ve already left, or have one foot out the door looking to be their authentic selves elsewhere.
About the Courage Collective
The Courage Collective is a consultancy that takes a strategic, holistic, and human-centered approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Our approach prioritizes courage, empathy and intentional action to create meaningful and lasting impact across the entire employee journey. More information on The Courage Collective’s approach and services is available at thecouragecollective.co.