Bringing your whole self to work – and all spaces

Do you have a workplace that feels stifling? Or is it a group of friends, mom group, or a church in which you can’t be yourself, feel judged and have to play pretend just to get along?

I say this is no way to live, and that you deserve a better life than that.

I am a big proponent of being able to bring your whole self to work. I believe that you should be able to show up as your true self in all spaces. Granted that a person is respectful of others, and poses no harm to other people or company business then I do not see why individuals have to strive to fit within a specific mould, when we could instead appreciate and celebrate our differences.

We spend so much time at work and (many of us) outside our homes that it seems odd and unnatural to me that we cannot fully be who we are at all times. We are afraid of being judged or, even worse, getting kicked out of these spaces that we want to belong to, that we end up smothering ourselves to fit in. We present a version of ourselves that we think is more palatable, likeable, hireable, promoteable.

I want to turn up to the office and be myself, without feeling like I must tone down or whitewash certain aspects of myself. As an African woman living in the West, the conversation on bringing your whole self to work for me naturally ends up around my Africanness/Blackness and the nuances that come with that – hair, carriage, and so on. In the spaces I find myself, I am different and a minority by default. I have naturally come to learn – like most dark-skinned people – that people will approach me with misconceptions and prior judgements based on what they have seen on the TV and news. This can cause a pressure to always want to appear in the best light possible at all times and result in self-censure. There is a certain degree of pressure on everyone to make a good impression in the workplace (hopefully), but this pressure is even greater when you’re a minority.

In the U.S, for example, it was only recently that the courts of law in some states ruled hair discrimination in the office as illegal. Before, an individual could be fired for having braids or any ethnic hairstyle, even though it did not look unprofessional. The way we naturally wear our hair everyday in Africa without turning a single eye, could get a person fired in the US, because someone decided “that does not belong here.” This does not sit well with me.

I want to turn up to work in any hairstyle an African would naturally wear or even a head wrap, without being questioned. I want people to instinctively understand that our innate differences are no cause for curious questions, and subsequently to not ask those questions. I want to not be treated like a curiosity.

For some people it is race, while for others it is religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, appearance. There are as many ways of making people feel unwelcome for their differences as there are differences between people.

So this post is not about fashion and style choices in the work place, it is about acceptance and letting people be comfortable in the workplace so as to get the best out of them. It is about creating spaces in which people feel comfortable enough in their own skin to bring their whole true authentic self to work. When people feel at home in the workplace it breeds a greater sense of ownership of their work and of the company.

Human beings are more than those 8-plus hours a day that they spend working for an employer. People whose places of work allow them the freedom to be human beings, whose colleagues accept that differences between people are as natural as the air we breathe, those are the places that actually thrive.

If your current space is stifling you here is my advice. Make an exit plan, strategise and get out of there! You deserve to live a free life, you deserve to work with humane human beings.

Bring your whole self to work
Bring your whole self to all the spaces you occupy. Go on and thrive!

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