Identity in Professional Spaces

I’m very lucky to have had professionals around me this year that wanted my honesty and appreciated my humanity. When I shakily corrected pronouns, I was met with appreciation rather than anger. Even better, they held these moments with me without derailing the conversation or showering me with apologies. The professionals around me acknowledged their mistake with grace and showed their respect for me by giving me the effort required to push past their default assumptions about me and my body and look for the person I’m trying to present.

I couldn’t have predicted how good it would feel to be released from an office that didn’t fully see my personhood. Even with wonderfully supportive co-workers, my day-to-day experience working under a manager that did not give me that respect was more damaging to my self image and mental health than I was able to see at the time.

This post is not meant to rehash old hurts but rather bring to light the importance of identity in professional spaces. If we hope to develop working relationships that encourage collaboration and innovation I believe we have to approach our teams with whole-hearted acceptance and appreciation. To create a space that feels safe and exciting for every team member, I believe it is important to not only aim for diversity, but to actively embrace the unique needs of each team member. Diversity shouldn’t be a buzzword. Diversity within an organization should celebrate the true value of our differences.

Leveraging the different perspectives of your team members for better results that everyone feels invested in and empowered by is, in my view, the main objective of any good leader. I’ve worked in offices both with and without this ideal. As an employee, I’ve felt my dedication grow with that support and my stress levels grow without it. In my students, I have seen the power of a corrected pronoun to reinforce someone’s self image. When the real humans doing good work are well cared for, those efforts result in value. Value in the new skills they’re able to absorb, the ideas they’re able to generate, and the institutional knowledge retained by a dedicated staff.

Prioritizing profit or planning without also prioritizing human needs will never be successful.

Any business relies on real people to make things happen. And real people have real needs, even on the clock.