Shame in organisations

I've recently become convinced that it is not possible to talk about the Diversity and Inclusivity challenges we are facing in the workplace without a discussion about shame.

And the biggest obstacle to tackling our D&I challenges may well be that no one wants to have this conversation. 

What is shame?  Shame is best characterised as an inherent lack of worthiness and a feeling of somehow being inadequate. It is a toxic emotion leading not to behavioural change but instead to disconnection. And - we all have it.  As human beings that are wired for connection with others, our greatest fear can only be that there is something about us that is somehow not worthy of that connection.  

Shame is a focus on the self (I am bad), guilt is a focus on behaviour (I have done something bad).

That feeling that we are somehow tainted and 'not enough' sits behind so many of the challenges that I see in today's workplace - Imposter Syndrome, Perfectionism, Anger, passive aggressiveness, hiding, lack of engagement and, relating to inclusivity, that feeling that we somehow can't show up as ourselves.

The work I have been doing for five years now is all about how people can truly show up and be seen in the workplace.  I got on that plane to Texas, to learn more about shame from the shame researcher Brené Brown, because I instinctively believed that understanding what kept us playing small would unlock how we could truly show up.  

Individual shame

Most of the work that I do focuses on our own capacity for shame and teaches shame resilience.  Our shame might be triggered by our personal histories and our relationships.  It is certainly true that some individuals are more shame prone than others and the work has demonstrated to me that we can teach people how to walk through shame.

Systems also create shame

And I don't think we are talking enough about how systems and cultures can be shaming.

Our experiences of race, class, gender and sexual orientation can be incredible shaming.  Those that are classified as somehow 'different' are constantly receiving messages that they are somehow not enough. People receive real and imagined messages from the Box Seats - those that are holding position of privilege and power in the systems in which we operate - all the time.  

People in charge of organisations who claim to want to tackle the D&I agenda need to do work on shame. Thy need to understand the emotion and how, inadvertently, workplace cultures might exacerbate this emotion for some people.

Shame is toxic. It causes people to act out, to pretend and to hide.  If we want cultures in which people can truly show up as themselves, we need to understand what it is that stops people from being able to be their true selves. And that is the conversation about shame.

With love, Rox

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