You cannot be an effective team player...

If you view your identity as a liability.
by Dumi Senda, Talent Manager & Media Lead
11 Sep 2017

By Dumi Senda, Talent Manager & Media Lead | SEO London

Last week I was fortunate enough to accompany my colleague Julie Quist-Therson, Head of Corporate Law programming at SEO London, to a diversity and inclusion (D&I) panel discussion hosted by the Royal Bank of Scotland at Ashurst LLP. The event revealed that marginalised groups such as ethnic minorities, disabled people, and those from LGBTQ communities are likely to think of their identity/life style as an impediment or liability to their career progression. As a result, they tend to avoid challenging workplace discrimination head-on!

During the D&I event at Ashurst LLP, a lawyer of Asian ethnicity stated that he “mimicked English identity” in order to progress in his career. However, by his own admission, the mimicry eventually became a ‘glass ceiling’, stopping him from achieving a fulfilling career.

This is because when you attempt to ‘be’ who you are not (truly), you increasingly lose who you (truly) are.

Mimicry makes you a poor version of others, and, simultaneously, a flawed version of yourself. While you may achieve career success in the short term, you suffer diminished confidence and vagueness of purpose in the long term.

Pressure to change one’s identity/lifestyle in order to fit in is driven by a culture of conformity. If, for example, you have (unapologetically) held on to your authentic accent, as I have, being a Zimbabwean who has lived in the UK for over a decade, you may be perceived as ‘unpolished’ or even ‘unintelligent’ in institutions where the ‘normal thing’ is to speak with a particular accent. Such pressure creates a fight or flight dilemma.

Given how difficult it is to challenge let alone change the status quo, marginalised groups may frequently choose flight; i.e. instead of viewing conformity as the problem, they may view themselves as being inadequate.

Additionally, pressure to succeed from family or peers, particularly within traditional cultures where children are raised to look after their parents, may further compel marginalised groups to be ‘pragmatic’ and do ‘whatever it takes to make it’. This often means ‘trading’ their authentic selves for career success.

However, by conforming to appear more ‘polished’, and therefore ‘suitable’ or ‘adequate’, such individual choices inadvertently affirm the perception of inferiority.

According to panelist Samina Akram, Managing Director of Samak Ethical Finance, if one holds to the self-fulfilling logic of “I am a woman, I will never progress. Or I am an ethnic minority, I will never progress", they may never reach their true potential.

Similar sentiments were echoed by panelist Heather Melville, Director for Strategic Partnerships and Head of Business inclusion at the Royal Bank of Scotland, asserting that “my color, my age, my race; none of that stops me doing what I want to do”.

These champions of diversity and inclusion are not unaware and indeed unexposed to workplace discrimination; rather they choose to challenge it head on by leveraging the very thing which others attempt to marginalize them with: identity.

As Heather Melville put it, difference might be an aspect that helps individuals and teams to stand out amongst competitors. Implying that where skills and product quality are equally matched, your unique identity may be a differentiator which gives you that extra bit of traction.

Viewing your identity as a liability risks margenalising you even before you are margenalised, curtailing you from being an effective team player as you may opt to alter your identity instead of challenging workplace discimination head on.


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