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CultureJun 09, 2022

3 Challenges to Finding Authenticity at Work

Allie Buckmaster, Ileana Martinez, and Amanda Bsaibes

Authenticity is often described as "being your true self," but it is also about sharing your true ideas, thoughts, and feelings. People can rely on you to not compromise yourself to fit the preferences of others. It's about realizing that you can meet, and even exceed, expectations while still being your true self. Ultimately, it's an encouragement to share your personality, feel comfortable in your own skin, and find the confidence to take on life as the real you, not a watered-down version of yourself.

The first step to embracing authenticity is understanding who you are and what core values you want to live out, which can help you set boundaries and thrive in both work and personal life. Core values are often based on personal experiences or beliefs and can change over time; they help define who you are and provide structure and guidance in challenging situations, drive your behavior, and support strong decision making.

There are numerous ways to reflect on your core values and personal definition of authenticity. A good place to start is through free online personality assessments such as Enneagram, Myers Briggs Personality, or Strengths Finder. These assessments present opportunities to reflect on yourself, your behaviors, and how you relate to others.

Some additional reflection questions that can be especially helpful when determining strengths/characteristics in a team setting include:

  • What is your communication style? Do you prioritize close relationships or facts/data? Do you work best in a structured environment or in a relaxed work environment?

  • What is your work style? Are you a risk taker or prefer stable/orderly decisions? Are you driven by results or by human connection?

  • How do you prefer to give/receive feedback? Do you prefer feedback to be straight to the point or in conjunction with reassurance of strengths?

  • How do you prefer to be rewarded? Through gifts, acts of service, experiences, or words of affirmation?

Authenticity at a Credera Women’s Network (CWN) Event

The Credera Women’s Network recently hosted an event focused on embracing your authentic self, open to all women at the firm, where we shared optional pre-event reflection questions to help foster discussion. We kicked off the event with a short presentation on authenticity and core values, and then we broke out into small groups to discuss. We had women from all levels attend, and we’ve summarized the key takeaways below related to what it means to be authentic, how to be authentic at work, and any difficulties women typically experience.

Embracing Authenticity slide, presented to the CWN on 4/16/22

How to Be Authentic at Work

At Credera, we are committed to authenticity, demonstrated through our core values, and being “people first” at our foundation! This means that we are encouraged to bring our authentic selves to work every day. For many of us, this looks like showing our pets, children, houseplants, and whatever else during our work meetings when appropriate and genuinely developing deep relationships with others across the firm.

Credera’s Core Values

Our people crave authentic connections with one other because work is not just about doing our jobs with excellence, but also about celebrating successes, supporting each other in hardship, and walking through the everyday life events that make us who we are.

During our small-group discussions, one of our women said, "[Our people first culture] reinforces loyalty to work relationships because they give you the flexibility to go take care of what's important first." Credera promotes this by giving us the freedom to prioritize our family (and ourselves) when needed, encouraging physical and mental breaks through the day (i.e., a quick walk or phone call during the workday), and protecting nights, weekends, PTO, and holidays. This attention to the full self has allowed our people to not only feel supported, but one woman commented that it even makes her want to work harder!

Bringing your authentic self to a team and promoting those deep connections can occur in multiple ways. Credera has created a one-pager to display our personal and professional strengths/characteristics to our teams. This one-pager, called a trading card, is an excellent way to broach the conversation of who we are and how we can best work together. During our small group discussions, our women suggested helpful ways the trading card could promote authentic relationships and improve team dynamics, including as a team building activity or even in one-on-one conversations.

Trading card for Allie Buckmaster, senior consultant in Management Consulting in Houston

Regardless of how or if the trading card is used, being authentic in your team at work will dramatically improve your experience, wellbeing, and even work output. Our women encourage finding ways to laugh every day (even if it’s just at yourself!) to develop comfort, transparency, and trust within a team. As a leader, listening and promoting a safe environment for the authentic self is another key element to a strong team.

Attendees also shared that authenticity makes them more likely to be honest and humble about their skillsets and where they need help. This allows the team to play to everyone’s strengths, making them stronger as a unit. Similarly, by being humble and honest, we can better receive and share feedback to encourage continual growth.

Embracing Authenticity in the Workplace slide, presented to the CWN on 4/16/22

Difficulties of Showing up Authentically

While showing up as one’s authentic self—at work, with family, and within society—can feel deeply liberating, getting to that level of comfort can come with challenges. During our breakout group sessions, we explored these challenges as well as strategies for overcoming them. Several women volunteered their unique perspectives, but three overarching challenges emerged:

  1. Imposter syndrome

  2. Disproportionate representation

  3. Balancing personal and professional personas

1. Impostor Syndrome

Several of the women in attendance identified impostor syndrome as a key challenge, which is a phrase used to describe the inability to internalize or take credit for one’s success. In some cases, our women admitted to noticing the generally extroverted, high-energy personalities of their coworkers and felt pressure to match it. In others, some fell in the trap of comparison to others’ certifications, former employers, or other accomplishments. This caused them to believe the lie that they were not living up to a certain set of expectations. In either case, these examples evoke internal questions like, “What gives me the right to be here?”, “Did someone make a mistake in hiring me?”, or even, “If I show up as my true self, will I be seen as a fraud?”

Impostor syndrome can affect anyone at any level, but there are ways to overcome it. For example, sharing these feelings with mentors (in our case at Credera, with our career coaches) can help us to recognize that they are, first of all, normal, but more importantly, not true. Using our process of continual, 360-degree feedback from peers and leaders, our career coaches can help us recognize skills and strengths we tend to downplay or weren’t aware of.

Another way to overcome imposter syndrome is by seeking new opportunities to flex our expertise in creative, productive ways, such as mentoring a newer or junior team member. This can remind us of how far we’ve come and how much knowledge we have to impart.

2. Disproportionate Representation

Impostor syndrome and other challenges of showing up authentically are exacerbated when one is underrepresented in their field. Some of the female technology consultants who attended this event shared that it has been difficult to figure out “what is professional” since their industry continues to be male dominated. Another observed that when she joined Credera years ago, there were no partners of color or who identified as female at that time, which is different today. This created feelings of “otherness” and made it difficult to identify a clear trajectory to success.

Credera has since had aggressive goals for increasing minority representation at all levels and across all practices within our business. However, it is important to acknowledge that this is only one piece of the puzzle; representation alone cannot create a culture of inclusion and authenticity. As our CWN Partner-in-Charge Seema Desai put it, “People are having curious and respectful conversations. I have been excited to hear ‘What do you do to celebrate [this holiday]? Am I pronouncing that correctly?’”

Indeed, there have been several exciting opportunities to hear how culture and upbringing have shaped other Credera team members, opening the door to more conversations and inclusivity. We are all responsible for sustaining our diversity goals by creating a culture where employees feel safe sharing their authentic self, whatever that means for them.

3. Balancing Personal and Professional Personas

The last of three major themes speaks to striking the balance between showing up authentically while also reading the audience. For example, many of our women shared how they feel the need to suppress a goofier demeanor in professional settings. Another shared that she felt she had to “speak with her hands” less. We all related to another who described the internal turmoil of deciding how many exclamation marks to use in written communication. These all speak to the overarching challenges of balancing our personal versus professional selves.

However, “code switching” does not necessarily compromise authenticity. We can all learn to be comfortable with being authentic versions of ourselves that vary based on how we read different audiences, as long as we stay true to our core values and belief systems. Our nine-to-five selves and five-to-nine selves are going to look slightly different, but they don’t have to be completely antithetical.

Understanding the different ways to approach work and home is a process that may take time and could change, but Credera is committed to walking alongside our team members and supporting them the entire way.

Continuing the Conversation

This event is another example of opening the door for authentic conversations and making space for our women to come to the table as their full selves. By providing a quick one-pager (the trading card) to prompt reflection and discussion with peers and leaders, Credera continues to think of team members as individuals, rather than just employees.

Want to learn more about how Credera is continuing the conversation on authenticity or the Credera Women’s Network? Reach out to us at learnmore@credera.com or visit our CWN page.

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