It has long been thought that to succeed professionally, you need to blend into the culture of your workplace, you need to mute your differences and not “shake the pot,” especially as a woman or member of a minority group. But a recent article in the Harvard Business Review has revealed that there can also be many benefits to sharing your cultural differences and being your whole, unique self.
When we don’t hold back or hide our true identities, we can offer a unique perspective. As a minority or a member of a different gender group than others in similar roles, often you have different life experiences that provide a different view on a particular subject area. For example, a woman is going to know a lot more about designing a training bra than a man. Someone who grew up in a poor family is going to understand public aid better than someone who never needed it. Someone who struggled to fit in as a child because of racial differences is going to understand minority issues better than someone who didn’t face those circumstances.
Your unique perspective can also help to identify any racially insensitive marketing or features that might have been overlooked. By being open with your thoughts and observations you can help to prevent serious issues from taking place. If you are willing to share details about your life or culture with others, you also have the potential to help bridge differences and create a more conducive work environment. People are naive to differences and often rely on incorrect stereotypes to classify those around them, you have the potential to open their minds and change that perspective by sharing a bit about you.
Being true to yourself and sharing your identity with others can help to build rapport among colleagues or clients. When similarities are discovered in people of different nationalities you have created a bridge from one culture to another. As humans, we tend to connect over a common interest or life experience, like being a mom, enjoying a particular hobby, or experiencing a similar life event.
Benefits vs. Risks
As with all benefits, there are also risks. When you stand out or relate to a specific cultural or gender group you might find yourself getting stuck with the same projects over and over again. You may also be faced with resistance from management or colleagues who don’t agree with your degree of difference. They might be uncomfortable with you getting noticed or pointing out a different path they had yet to consider.
In the end, it is your self-confidence, creativity, and work ethic that are going to get you noticed. Being yourself and having the ability to feel like you can truly be you are going to contribute to your overall happiness and self-confidence and likely your success.