March 11, 2022


Woman of color*Mother*Christian*LSU Alumni*Southerner*Texan*Insurance Professional

I was born and raised in south Louisiana. Mardi Gras season is currently wrapping up and is an important part of our culture. One of the fun elements of Mardi Gras is the mask; Krewe members ride floats in masks.  These make the riders mysterious and keep the crowds guessing about who is behind the beads, cups and other trinkets that are thrown out during the parades.  For that season of carnival, the krewe is able to become someone else.  They get to be merry, to dance and assume another unknown persona. There’s one thing about the masks and the fun of carnival and that is – it’s optional.

Each day we show up to work, we get to choose which aspects of our beings we bring to the work that we do.  As a woman of color, I don’t get to decide whether someone knows or sees me as a woman of color. It’s something that is apparent when I show up. However, the fact that I’m a mother or that I’m a southerner or even that I’m a professional aren’t things that you would know unless I shared those things with you.  We all have various categorizations in our lives that create interdependent systems of discrimination and/or disadvantages. This is called the “intersectionality” of who we are at our core. In my experience, we all have a multitude of categorizations that we present with and this is what we refer to as “Authenticity.”

Being able to show up as a woman of color, a mother, a Christian, an LSU alumni, a southerner, and insurance professional, means that I can show up as my whole self. I shouldn’t have to hide aspects of my being just to fit in with an environment. When a workplace creates a culture of diversity and is psychologically safe, employees feel empowered to show up as their full selves. They don’t have to mask certain parts of their identity. You may be wondering why it’s important to bring all the aspects of your identity to work.  Imagine me showing up as a woman of color, something that is so engrained and visible that I couldn’t mask it if I wanted to, but also not being able to show up as a mother?  Parenting and children are a major part of why I work so hard at work, so how would I leave that part of my life out of my work?  Imagine someone who had a same sex partner, would it be okay if they didn’t feel safe enough to talk about their loved ones at work? When they went on vacations or talked about how they spent their weekends, if they had to leave a big part of their lives outside of their work – how much would they contribute?  And how would they feel like they belong if they had to leave parts of themselves at the door?

Authenticity is about feeling valued and respected for who you are. It’s feeling like your contributions and ideas are valued and that you are respected. Would you want to work at a place that had a  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy? It would be similar to wearing a mask. When people are allowed to be authentic, it gives them the psychological safety to feel that they matter and their contributions add value to the organization. Diversity of thought can only benefit workplaces and what better way to make employees feel comfortable sharing opinions and ideas, than providing the space for them to show up as their full selves?

As a woman of color, when I’m entering new professional settings and I have to think about the image that I’m presenting. I sometimes find myself being the only woman of color. Throughout my career, I’ve had to “fit” in with the majority. As I’ve gotten more experience – in my career and life, I’ve come to the realization that any organization that doesn’t allow me to be who I am or wants me to mask parts of myself for me to be considered “Professional” or a “good fit” are not places that I’d want to join.  We spend the majority of our days with co-workers and customers and it’s not desirable to have to mask or code switch who we are.

Authenticity isn’t just showing up physically as who we want to be, it’s also being able to disclose neurodiverse conditions so that we can do our roles better.  We should all be able to show up in ways that align with our core values without feeling like there will be consequences to who we are.  Our differences include things that connect us. When we share our stories and life experiences, we tend to find that we are more connected and alike than we are different.  Each workplace, organization, community, group, etc. that we participate in, we are all apart of creating the culture of that environment. We have to ask ourselves if we are creating safe spaces where all those who are apart actually feel like they belong and are respected or are we sending the message that we don’t want them to show up authentically?

How can we make space for others to show up authentically?  We often hear the term, “good fit.”  We have to ask ourselves, do we only want people who look, think, speak and act like us? Or is there value added when we have diversity of thought.  The next time you are attempting to gauge whether someone is a good fit, take a pause and reflect on whether you have others in the room that give you alternate perspectives. If not, invite them to the table – they likely have a lot to add.

Another way to foster authenticity is ally ship.  We are all on journeys in our diversity efforts and some of us are further along than others, are we recognizing the differences?  Are we being curious about other cultures and giving others the space and platform to tell their stories and offer their perspectives? It’s very easy to share your platform and give someone else the space to share their thoughts.  Take an assessment and reflect on your professional and social circles. When you reflect, do you only see people whose background mirrors yours?  Be honest with yourself. And lastly, show kindness and respect to others who may be having a different life experience. Take the time to genuinely get to know others as we all have value to add to the culture.

By: Valerine Conerly, Client Relations Specialist, United Heartland