Job postings and corporate ‘About Us’ pages often include a statement about the company fostering an environment where employees can bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. But how often do these claims reflect reality?
At risk of being difficult, I have questions about the premise. For one, why on God’s Fragrant Earth would an employer, or indeed their customers, want employees to drag every last piece of their personal baggage into the workplace and then inflict that inexhaustible tedium on everyone else? If, say, I’m buying groceries, I am as a rule friendly towards the person at the checkout. There’s always eye contact, a smile, and a word of appreciation. However, I rarely have the time or inclination to hear about the cashier’s extensive list of ailments or her difficulties finding a babysitter, or a lover, or a suitable shampoo. Nor do I wish to hear her views on politics. It’s not why I’m there. And ditto her.
Bringing your whole self to your job can be challenging at best and career limiting at worst, specifically for marginalized and racialized peoples.
There we go. At this point, we could, I think, just paraphrase and save a lot of time:
Self-Involvement Not Entirely Practical In The Workplace. Magic Brown People Hardest Hit.
But no. We must push on.
Tanya Sinclair is the founder of Black Human Resources Professionals of Canada, a not-for-profit founded in 2020… Ms Sinclair says bringing your whole self to work is a great goal, “if you can,” but that “there is inherent risk that comes with bringing your full self to work for Black people.”
Those alleged risks, supposedly unique to black people, will, I’m sure, be made both clear and convincing at some point; though, alas, not in the article. However, the author of the piece, Ms Shellene Drakes-Tull, is determined to wring from her readers some pretentious sympathy:
In the face of precarious work situations, the idea of being vulnerable and sharing all parts of your identity can compound the difficulties of finding and keeping sustained, stable employment – even when employers encourage it.
Again, I’m still not clear on why “sharing all parts of your identity” is what a workplace should be for. It seems to me that a key part of being professional is not allowing a necessary task to be derailed by personal irritation, or a frustrating commute, or a bad hair day, or just habitual self-preoccupation.
“I was taught that there are certain things that you don’t say or certain things that you keep your mouth shut about,” says Julisha Roache, a recent graduate of the University of Lethbridge who is entering the work force. “You just don’t disrupt the peace, because at that point, you’re disposable,” she says.
Shocking revelations from a recent graduate. Positively bulging with worldly knowledge.
Ms Sinclair believes that employers need to be aware that Black employees may navigate the workplace differently than other employees.
Again, magic brown people. Not like thee and me. Bring the offerings.
“Chances are your Black employees may not be bringing their full selves to work for many reasons that are linked to systemic barriers, that are linked to intersectionalities, but that are also linked to your own workplace culture,” she says. “I think [employers] have to own and acknowledge that if you have provided some training and you did a series of events for Black History Month, it’s not just checked and done.”
Ah. Systemic barriers. Systemic barriers that are linked to intersectionalities. Again, details are somewhat sketchy here, as is so often the way, but it all sounds terribly serious. A toe-hold for outrage, albeit performative. And despite the lack of particulars, it seems that employers must, as a bare minimum, submit to some racial grifting. Before their education, and their confessions of inadequacy, can begin in earnest.
Excuse me a minute. The High-Maintenance Nightmare light seems to be flashing.
There follows some obligatory rumbling about the “freedom” to have ostentatious hairstyles “without negative repercussions,” before we are informed of black employees’ entitlement to speak and behave in ways that are likely to be “interpreted as violent or aggressive.” No, really.
Ms Sinclair mentions tone policing, which means dismissing or misinterpreting what someone is saying because of how they are saying it.
You see, if an employee is surly, or starts cursing and shouting, while invading your personal space and flailing their arms about – such that these things can be “interpreted as violent or aggressive” - this is something that employers must tolerate, and of course defer to. Because of those intersectionalities, presumably. Ms Sinclair shares other thoughts on the matter. We’re told, for instance, that a dislike of being shouted at or bullied by the emotionally incontinent can only be evidence of “deep, inherent bias and deeply inherent systemic racism.”
Sorry, just a sec. The High-Maintenance Nightmare light is flashing again.
And yes, we’ve been here before. Different gown, same dance.
As the thrust of the article appears to be the scolding and correction of pale-skinned employers - who must disavow their wicked, oppressive habit of holding all employees to the same standards of behaviour - we turn again to our recent graduate, Ms Roache, whose thesis is an exercise in racial self-absorption, and whose favourite class was, shockingly, “Decolonising Ethnography.”
Ms Roache, who is in her early 20s, says she reads on Twitter what people in her community are discussing, like being Black at work. She says there’s “way more pushback” these days from young Black people who want employers to redefine what “professional” means. “Professionalism is in your conduct, not necessarily what you’re wearing or what you look like,” she says.
Well, the doing of the job is the most important thing. Though one wonders how much of it will get done by employees who want to “disrupt the peace,” and whose default setting is to wield unconvincing accusations of “privilege” and “deeply inherent systemic racism,” in between fits of shouting and behaviour that can be “interpreted as violent or aggressive.”
Still, could be worse.
Heavens, a button. I wonder what it does.