Today’s news stories have multiple accounts of attempts to erase individuals’ identities through legislation, book bans, curricula eliminations, and other processes that diminish the whole person. This is not going to be a blog that further politicizes these behaviors but rather, I hope, a reflection on how these public displays may affect how individuals arrive at their work setting. If someone’s intersecting identities are under scrutiny and assault, how can they deliver their best performance? Who can they trust? Are they feeling psychologically safe?
Every day, we go to the workplace with our intersecting Dimensions of Personal Identity, both visible and invisible. These dimensions have particular meaning and associations, related to individuals’ personal histories, including where one grew up, family immigration, disability status experiences with racism and other hate crimes, such as antisemitism, personal losses due to events such as 9-11, natural disasters, and the recent pandemic. Being on a team does not mean knowing others’ personal stories and what may matter to them, but building relationships at work can facilitate enhanced perspectives about personal identities and why these are special.
For example, with Arredondo as my last name, I have been asked if I am Italian. Some who know I am of Mexican-American heritage, have questioned my color, asserting that I am a “white Hispanic”. The latter is an identity I have never used to describe myself. At work we call these microaggressions, statements of disrespect. Fortunately, many workplaces are placing greater intentionality on inclusion and belonging, attempting to educate employees about the harm that comes from labeling and acting on biases and assumptions about others. If someone of immigrant heritage hears co-workers criticize immigrants for “taking jobs away from Americans”, would these individuals’ be trustworthy? If a co-worker on a DEIB committee says to a Black colleague, “I don’t see color”, and you as a committee member hear this, do you step in and question the offender?
Maintaining morale, retaining talented employees, and demonstrating consideration for employees’ sense of connection beyond their performance are being recognized as essential to organizational well-being. By recognizing and demonstrating respect for individual’s dimensions of personal identity, employers can create a workplace of inclusion with a sense of belonging. Talk about it. We recommend conversations about what it means to be included and feel a sense of belonging at work. But to have these conversations we also have to listen.