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The Inherent Bias In “Professionalism” and “Authenticity” at Work

I think often about what’s considered “professional” or “authentic” in workplace culture.

Certain hairstyles. Certain names. Certain clothes. A certain language, work ethic, body language, emotional expressions.

The result? Workplaces that are unwelcoming, uncomfortable, and downright hostile to those who don’t fit.

Coincidence? Not really.

These markers are exclusionary by design — and if you’re reading this, I know you know who they were designed to alienate, and who they were designed to embrace.

Professionalism and authenticity are long overdue for a rebrand. That rebrand must specifically center the experience of women of color to kickstart change that benefits ALL employees across the board.

Below are some of my favorite, most impactful resources for understanding why these efforts are essential for the modern workplace:

The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards, by Aysa Gray

When I read this article, the person in the next room probably thought I was losing my mind: I shouted ‘yes’ and ‘finally!’ pretty much throughout reading it. I still do when I re-read it for the billionth time.

It puts into perspective the lesser spoken about (but most people of color know exactly what this refers to) pressures of ‘professionalism’—like perfectionism, punctuality, speech, accent, and dress—that all point to a coded bias towards whiteness and Western-ness.

To create an inclusive environment (really), we must recognize and work against only having one acceptable way of doing things.

The Myth of Bringing Your Full, Authentic Self to Work, by Jodi-Ann Burey [WATCH]

Jodi-Ann Burey is an extraordinary leader and her TED talk so poignantly captures the experience so many people of color have at work. Too many workplaces say they want everyone to bring their authentic selves to the workplace, only to penalize employees from underestimated backgrounds for doing just that. This is a must watch!

(P.S.) Jodi-Ann and I co-wrote the viral article Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome, one of Harvard Business Review’s most popular articles of all time.

What Is White Privilege? by John Amaechi [WATCH]

Two minutes and thirty-one seconds that will change your life. Just watch it, seriously, and pass it on.

I curated other resources you can read, watch and listen to around redefining

professionalism and authenticity for Get Pocket. They’re all worth your time! And I go into much more detail about this in my new book, Inclusion on Purpose.

Now, I want to hear from you in the comments. What makes YOU feel authentic and professional (no matter what your boss or workplace would say)?

Let’s celebrate and elevate how YOU embody professionalism and authenticity. I’ve shared an example of my own below (and it relates to this picture!), and I’d love to hear yours.


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