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Diversity in Business

How to Embrace and Empower Authenticity in the Workplace

Diversity in the workplace matters more than ever. Recent Census data shows America is becoming more varied in both race and ethnicity. All this growth means workplaces need to be just as diverse.

Investing in women

Leaders say now is the time to empower women and minorities in business.

“If leaders have diversity of thought — where a different mix of people are coming together — they’re bringing ideas to the workplace that really help to drive innovation,” said Wanda Brackins, head of global diversity at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., a 5,000-person company based in Minneapolis.

The challenge, however, is creating an environment where that diversity of thought is not only embraced, but allowed to influence workplace culture, business decisions and the products or services a company offers.

One of the easiest ways to create such an environment is to empower each individual employee to be their authentic selves, say leaders at RBC Wealth Management-U.S. “In order to really bring diversity and inclusion to the next level, companies should explore how they can empower employees to bring more of their whole selves into their daily work,” Brackins said.

Letting go

Authenticity can take many forms. For Kristen Kimmell, chief of staff at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., that means letting go of the perception of perfection.

“Early in my career I would look around at other women and wonder how they managed to keep all the balls in the air and do it so seamlessly,” she says. “How did they manage to keep it all together while I seemed to be such a disorganized mess?”

Kimmell started asking women she admired to share their secrets. She learned those women, who appeared to have it all together, were scrambling and juggling just like she was.

“I realized that I wasn’t failing and that my struggles weren’t unique. That gave me the comfort to begin to be more vulnerable and talk about some of those daily struggles more openly, so that I could provide a more authentic model for other women around me.”

As a workplace leader, Kimmell knows she has to set the tone.

“When I give advice to other women, I tell them how I struggled or how I failed so that they can see that they are not alone,” she says.

Empowering authenticity

Companies can encourage employees to be authentic at work through recognition.

“You have to make employees feel valued,” says Brackins. “When you recognize them not just for their work product, but for their character and for being their authentic self, that’s when you truly empower them.”

She shares this story as an example: Not long ago, RBC honored one of its Chicago employees, an African American man who has long been active in the community, including working with inner-city at-risk youth. The award not only acknowledged his service, but how he regularly involves his colleagues in that work, helping them to see a side of the community they may otherwise not fully understand.

“Companies that truly value diversity must also find ways to empower employees to embrace their individuality,” Brackins says.

At a recent event hosted by Pollen Midwest, a panel of diverse leaders talked about how they were more than just their job. They shared how they had multiple layers, or “multitudes,” to their life and personality, and, most importantly, how they brought those layers to work with them every day to make them better at their job and in life.

“One of our financial advisors, a lesbian, Jewish woman was on the panel,” says Brackins. “She spoke about how she weaves those two elements of her identity into her work each and every day.”

Said Kimmell: “Not only did leaders from the firm, myself included, attend that event to support her, we went one step further and sponsored the event. So often we assume support is implied, but there are few things more powerful than showing up.”

While there’s more work to be done to diversify workplaces, these acts of acknowledgment, recognition and inclusion foreshadow great things to come.

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