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Don't be afraid to be you

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

You thought you were the only one.

Turns out 75 percent of all employees hide who they really are at work.

They cover up their true selves, whether it involves racial background, sexuality, age or personal style, according to a study from law professor Kenji Yoshino and the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion.

“You're one person at work and another person outside of work,” says Debbye Williams, a training and development professional who specializes in inclusion and diversity.

What's so bad about being someone different at work? After all, being in a professional setting is different than hanging out with friends.

It hurts you and your company.

One employee in the survey is trying to overcome the stereotype that Asians are quiet.

“I do my best to speak up, speak clearly and carry myself in a confident manner,” that person said.

Yet the employee's actual style may be “to sit back and observe, then go back and sort through information before responding,” Williams says.

“But they are given the feedback it's best to speak up in a meeting or you may not be seen as contributing,” she says. “They adapt their style to accommodate the organization rather than be who they are.”

Feeling pressured to have to say something makes that person less productive.

“This isn't how he gets to his best results,” not to mention how stressful it is for the person who's trying to be someone he or she is not, Williams says.

Someone who is gay and “may not let the organization know for fear of people not accepting it, is worried how it will affect the perception of their performance. They're in constant fear someone will find out and then of being perceived as a weaker performer.”

This can affect compensation, even a person's ability to keep a job.

Other employees disguise mannerisms.

“Another stereotype is that blacks and Hispanics can be animated and loud when they speak,” Williams says. “Sometimes people perceive that as a negative.”

She describes herself as animated. Early in her career after a meeting, she says she got feedback that “I was angry. After that, I tried to be low key and didn't share much so people wouldn't think I'm an angry black woman. You try not to do anything to reinforce stereotypes.”

Later, in a different organization that was “more sensitive to developing people, I blossomed. I learned that I just needed to do my best work and be me,” Williams says.

The Deloitte study also found that half of the straight white males said they hide their authentic selves.

“I was coached not to mention family commitments in conversations with executive management because one individual frowns on flexible work arrangements,” one man said.

Stop focusing on what an employee needs to improve when those things don't affect the delivery of their results. Instead, capitalize on the person's strengths.

And stop putting so much emphasis on how someone gets to results.

“Quit trying to mold someone into how you want them to think,” Williams says.

As the Catalyst study suggests: Make others feel valued for their differences, not uncomfortably conscious of them.

Write to career consultant Andrea Kay in care of USA Today/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22108; or email andrea@andreakay.com.

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