In recent times, there has been a notable focus on individualism and being your authentic self. After all, each of us are multifaceted individuals with a unique set of identities, skills and purposes. So why is it that we often struggle to bring our individual identities to the workplace? At this highly anticipated MadWomen event, Caroline Wanga, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and VP of Human Resources at Target, led us in a timely conversation around individual identities and our accountability in caring for our own identity intersections, as well as those of others.
The event opened with an introduction from Caroline. She led with statements about herself: “I am a parent and an immigrant. I deal with depression and diabetes. I’m an introvert. I’m not organized.” When asked how we felt about her introduction, everyone shouted out positive words like “authentic,” “real,” “true,” “complex,” and “honest.” Caroline then asked how we would feel if we were tasked with introducing ourselves in this way in the workplace. The responses shifted to “fear,” “judgement,” “censorship,” and “disapproval.”
Caroline’s purpose was not to pretend she was born comfortable sharing her individual identities right off the bat, but to show the path she took to get to the point where she was able to bring her honest self to the workplace. Below is a recap of Caroline’s advice on bringing your individual identities to the workplace.
The Main Takeaway:
Who You Are is Non-Negotiable.
Be Unapologetically Selfish
Understanding who you are is the first step to being accountable for your individual identities. Like Caroline said, “You cannot stand in your power and stand next to another’s power if you don’t know who you are.” Bring what you are good at to your workplace without compromising.
Identify Your Purpose
Ask yourself and your peers what your strengths and weaknesses are to narrow in on your purpose. Caroline recommends engaging in “courageous listening” with peers that have negative feedback in order to become aware of your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Pursue your purpose by focusing on what you are good at 90 percent of the time.
Build Your Foundation in the Workplace
The first step in building your foundation is to do your job and do it well. Second, build relationships with people who witness your strong work ethic (think: your boss, boss’s boss, peers, boss’s peers, and key business partners).
Hold Your Company Accountable
Although you can and should provide feedback to your company, you usually can’t change the culture of a company unless you have the adequate level of authority needed to drive change. If the workplace won’t change, it’s a sign to seek acceptable conditions elsewhere. This alone should be enough motivation for your company to make changes in order to retain talent.
Change Your Environment, Not Yourself
Many of us believe it’s our job to adjust ourselves to our environment and to make the environment comfortable for other people. Caroline challenges this notion, “if who you are doesn’t fit where you are, you change where you are, not who you are.”
If you are seeking a new career, remember you are also interviewing the company, so have set criteria for what you believe is a good fit, and if the company doesn’t meet your criteria, walk away from the opportunity. If you chose to compromise, understand it is your choice and be willing to face consequences. Additionally, continue to monitor if your company is still the right fit as you continue throughout your career.
Activate Your Authentic Self
Now that you’ve built a supportive foundation, you can begin to sprinkle in your authentic self by bringing forward your unique perspective and “intrusive insights.” Remember to anchor yourself in your strengths and enjoy building your own path and interacting with people who value your unique thoughts and opinions!
/written by Rachel Kolias
/photo by Gabi Winkels