I’m dressing up for my first career fair. I pull out my limited business professional clothing and lay it on my twin extra-long dorm bed: a blazer, a standard button down, a skirt, and a pair of slacks. My eyes scan back and forth as I contemplate which outfit will leave the best impression. I focus in on the slacks and think to myself, “the pants will make me look more like a business man.”
I begin to try them on without hesitation, until my body comes to a sudden stop. An overwhelming number of thoughts stir in my mind. My thought process is wrong; there is something deeply ingrained and harmful. I take a step back and think about the root of my own unconscious bias. I am and always have been an advocate of feminism. I am a believer in my own power as a woman. So where does this thought about the pants come from?
After contemplating the situation a little more, I realize that I had never truly seen female leadership modeled in a corporate workplace. I believed that being successful in business as a woman meant acting like a man. I have since come to realize how harmful this belief is in perpetuating gender stereotypes. I may have been simply picking out a pair of slacks, but those slacks disproportionately influenced my perspective on my identity and values as a leader.
Femininity can be expressed in many ways. Wearing a pair of slacks does not make me any less feminine.
Femininity can be expressed in many ways. Wearing a pair of slacks does not make me any less feminine. However, not wearing a skirt for the sake of portraying myself differently is not as straightforward as it sounds. In fact, it is a huge problem that exists in our minds, in our workplace, and in our world.
In the workplace, it is easy to feel like we are just a standard, uniform cog in the machine. However, this is far from the truth. While it is true that we all contribute through the work we produce, it is also true that our greatest superpower is our authentic identity. Our identity is what makes us human. It defines who we are and where we come from. The myriad nuanced differences that meld together to shape our unique identity are what give us our power and define our voice.
The myriad nuanced differences that meld together to shape our unique identity are what give us our power and define our voice.
We all have a story. Our story is informed by our identity. Our identity is shaped by the way we look, the way we speak, the way we dress, and so much more. When we repress details of our identity, our full story can never be shared. Our intricacies should never be hidden because they are what give us our own competitive advantage. Companies are successful because individuals share their perspectives, challenge the norm, and exploit that competitive advantage. It is not the headcount that makes a business successful, it is the people. Therefore, it is imperative that we embrace our authentic identities because they truly add value to the world.
This value is demonstrated in many different areas, but it is the most useful through leadership. Leadership has evolved so much over the last few years as a result of different identities and voices emerging into positions of power. For example, empathy is a leadership characteristic that has recently gained a lot of respect in the workplace, even though it is not traditionally seen as a “masculine” trait. With these changes comes immense opportunities for individuals to test the waters and be open to the power of their own leadership style – leadership that is informed by one’s gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, culture, and ethnicity; leadership that is boundless and liberating.
It is time that we see our identities as assets to our success rather than detriments.
Work is a place where you can be a part of something greater than yourself. A place where you can be a part of making change. And the best way to do that is to tell your truth, share your story, and speak your mind. It is time that we see our identities as assets to our success rather than detriments. We need to surround ourselves with people who treat identity as a competitive advantage, and we need to embrace the strengths in our differences.
Today dictates tomorrow, and today I am choosing to never hide an aspect of my identity again. The workplace needs us, for us. That means that we have to be our authentic selves today to improve the climate of tomorrow. We need to recognize the strength of our identities and the value they add to the world. This is a collective effort and long overdue. For your own sake – and all of humanity’s – be yourself.
In life, the odds aren’t always stacked in your favor. So, what are you going to do about it? Nicole C. shares how she stayed true to her love of football even though it didn’t fit in to normative culture values.
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