Authored by Tiffany McLain for Psyched in San Francisco Magazine. Tiffany has a psychotherapy practice in San Francisco where she specializes in working with young professionals who straddle multiple identities, be this professionally, ethnically or economically.
We've all heard the story. Authentic vulnerability is the golden ticket when it comes to to fulfilling our creative destiny. If we are to reach our full potential, we must embrace and accept all of our emotional experiences.
As Brene Brown says in her book The Gift of Imperfection, "We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions."
If this is true -- and the research says it is -- then it seems, the tech industry has created an environment where their underrepresented employees are, well, fucked. They are in a bind, because for minorities in tech, fitting into the workplace culture means leaving many parts of one's self and one's emotional experiences out. Frankly, authenticity may cost you your job.
In the tech industry, one's personal connections, and the perception that one is a good "cultural fit" are vital to success. What then is one to do when the standards of personal likability and cultural acceptability are, 91 percent of the time, set by a person whose cultural, historical, social and economic experience is different from yours.
This article is not meant to blame those at the top, namely, wealthy white males. The fact is, we all feel more comfortable and attracted to people who share similar backgrounds.
You do. I do. We all do.
This article is meant, instead, to simply ask the question. The desire to increase the diversity of experiences within the industry is inarguably a positive move. It is indisputable, however, that this trajectory has psychological costs to those minorities who are on the forefront of this movement.
One of these costs is the detrimental emotional and psychological impact of code-switching -- that is, putting on a mask, acting in a way that is, to varying degrees, inauthentic to one's experience of a true self in order to be the "good cultural fit" necessary for success.
As part of an ongoing exploration, I have interviewed women who fall into the tiny minority of tech workers in terms of their ethnic background. Though these women vary in regards to educational background, familial resources and ethnic identity, a narrative that occurred time and again, regardless of these differences, was one of hiding many aspects of their identity, emotions and thoughts in order to survive in the industry.
She experiences a constant sense that she is an outsider. "There are so many things as a POC who didn't grow up rich that don't fit in with being in a corporate company, in a capitalist society that wasn't for me, wasn't ever supposed to be for me. "
While the professional environment inevitably calls for us to compartmentalize parts of ourselves, those who fall outside of the (highly educated, history of resources, white, male, craft beer, artisanal toast) category have a task over and above their peers.
And, according to the research, this inauthenticity this takes its toll. Both for the company -- in terms of stifled innovation and creativity -- and for the underrepresented individual in terms of emotional well being and professional sustainability.
Statistically, your well-being will decrease when you have to sacrifice your true feelings in order to fit in with others. In fact, studies have shown that "external contexts that limit self-expression" may even inhibit your ability to recognize your emotions and thoughts.
Franki, a queer, biracial woman who, at 41, is considered a veteran, is very familiar with this experience and the costs therein. "I think at the end of the day, every POC appreciates when you go into tech, there is an unwritten rule that you cannot actually bring in [your]full self. You have to edit, filter, [your]personal experience, as well as [your]passion. When you have to turn off part of your brain, yourself, that is requiring brain energy which means you're not leaving enough or the right parts to contribute fully."
It feels like an impossible dilemma: Stick in the industry at cost of your emotional and psychological well being; or leave, and abandon all of the opportunities that come with gaining a foothold in technology.
Fortunately, while waiting for the industry catch up, there are ways to mitigate the psychic damage, without saying goodbye to the professional world in which you've worked so hard to excel.
1. Be ready to cut bait and run!
Many of the women I interviewed eventually found work environments that valued diversity, made way for their full personhood. These companies understand that the culture must expand to attract employees outside of the dominant view, rather than expecting the employees to conform to their narrow expectations of human experience.
If you're currently working for an organization where you feel like you have to leave 99 percent of your self out, perhaps it's time to start looking for a new gig.
2. Find your tribe.
Whatever this means for you! It is difficult to spend time all day with folks who have a hard time seeing you through the haze of difference. Make a real effort to build communities within your company based on mutual interests. If it seems like your colleagues are unwilling or unable to make the effort in time, see the previous step.
3. Get a Therapist!
You knew this one was coming. Research is clear that emotional intelligence is correlated with professional (and overall life) success. If you're working in an environment that is working against self-expression and knowledge, then you're constantly utilizing prime psychic real estate to simply maintain. You didn't do all of this work, and fight this isolating, courageous battle just to maintain. Investing in your psychic process is the name of the game. If you want to succeed, you've got to attend to your emotional well being.
When your workplace requires that you act inauthentically in order to fit in, this does take a toll. Of course, people of all backgrounds must conform to a certain set of professional standards, but when your ethnic identity itself is unconsciously treated as "unprofessional" by your peers, then the struggle is immense.
If it feels like just showing up as YOU can be exhausting, you're not alone. You are likely the first in generations to be entering this territory. Remember to find spaces, at work or otherwise, where you can express your true self -- in all your gritty, multi-faceted loveliness.