By Courtney Connley
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If you’re a woman, person of color, or individual from any marginalized group, chances are you’ve — intentionally or unintentionally — changed some form of who you are in order to fit in and advance at work. From altering the tone and pitch of your voice, to straightening your hair, and even changing your name, you’ve likely conformed to the idea of code-switching in order to be taken more seriously. But, can code-switching your way to the top backfire? And as an executive, is making these superficial changes a piece of advice you would pass onto the next generation, or is time for the workplace to change — not the individual?
On the latest episode of Chief’s podcast, Co-Founders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan talk to Courtney McCluney, former Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University, about the hidden costs of code-switching — both for the leaders who do it and for the organizations that make it the norm.
“We frame code switching as a professional dilemma that a lot of people from marginalized groups have to contend with,” says McCluney. For many leaders, particularly white men who hold more than 80% of Fortune 500 CEO roles, there’s an ideal image of what an employee should sound, act, and dress like. And for anyone who doesn’t code-switch to fit that mold, McCluney says they can face the downsides of being deemed as not professional. “This has a lot of job-related consequences for individuals who not only want to procure certain types of employment but also ascend in their corporations.”
On the other hand, McCluney explains, being inauthentic all day is exhausting and it can easily impact your mental health and productivity at work. That’s why, she challenges company leaders to re-evaluate their thoughts around what executive presence, professionalism, and an ideal worker looks like to ensure there aren’t any biases at play. Doing this, she says, will eliminate unequal levels of discomfort in the workplace that forces certain individuals to always feel like they have to code-switch in order to fit in.
To learn more about the different types of code-switching and the hidden, and not so hidden ways, in which they show up at work, listen to the latest episode of “The New Rules of Business,” brought to you by Fidelity. Be sure to follow wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes drop every Tuesday.
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