Making Space for Real Lives at Work

“We want employees to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.”

This is the latest in a long line of inclusion phrases trending in the Diversity & Inclusion field. In plain language, it means something like “We don’t discriminate. In fact, we actually accept people’s differences. No, really!”

A lot of folks take issue with this sentiment. First of all, it assumes that bringing your whole self to work is a good idea. (I mean, there are parts of my self even I don’t like! Why bring them to work?) Setting that debate aside, I suspect most people don’t really want to bring their whole selves anywhere. We have different Selves for different situations, and that’s okay, thank-you-very-much. It’s why we’re not all wearing pajamas right now.

Secondly, most of us don’t get to choose who we work with. We’re surrounded by people we don’t know, or don’t know well, or know but wish we didn’t. And then there’s the power dynamic. Naturally, work isn’t always going to feel like a safe place to show one’s Self – particularly one’s vulnerabilities.

I can count the number of times I’ve cried at work on one hand. Only once have I not felt completely mortified.That moment was Tuesday afternoon, June 14, 2016, when our staff gathered to talk about the tragic shootings in Orlando and how they were personally affected. For me, this gathering brought the effects of Orlando’s violence into sharper relief. It was painful, humbling and hopeful. I am grateful for the brave colleagues who shared their personal stories.

That day I was reminded that we can’t *not* bring our whole selves to work. We can hide certain parts, but that’s living a lie. If that’s not compelling, just think of how much energy is wasted pretending! That’s why it’s important to work somewhere that gets it – or is at least trying. By the way, even though (and maybe because) I work in human resources, I’m the first to acknowledge that this organization doesn’t always get it. But I think if your workplace says it values inclusion and wants you to “bring your whole self to work,” that’s a call to action for everyone. It’s up to all of us to create that culture, one vulnerable moment at a time.

Thanks to MPR employee Annie Anderson for sharing her personal take on our employee gathering below. She also wrote about the Orlando shootings for MPR News.

I returned to work on the Monday after the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando with a heavy heart. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through my workday. My manager, per usual, was outstanding and told me to do what I needed throughout the day to get through it – whether that meant leaving early or diving deep into my work.

I knew I had colleagues feeling similarly and I was really hoping we could come together in some way. To do or say what, I didn’t know, but to be together to honor the victims and hold space for ourselves.

Late that afternoon I had an idea of how this could maybe happen, so I walked down to find the executive sponsor of our LGBTQ Employee Resource Group to pitch my idea. She was away from her desk and I was leaving in an hour. I popped into her colleague’s office to see if we could get momentum going. My idea was to provide some sweet treat to employees as they walked into work the next day with a message of acknowledgement that some may have heavy hearts and that APM/MPR recognizes that. Simple really, but I felt it could be incredibly meaningful. But I also knew that if it didn’t happen on Tuesday that it shouldn’t happen at all.

APM can move really fast on a good idea. Tuesday afternoon we had a gathering in our forum space for all employees to acknowledge the hate in Orlando by breaking bread with one another. The bread came from a wide variety of bakeries from around town, many of them representing breads from their home countries. Our COO had sent an email earlier in the day inviting everyone and simply holding space for people to feel what they were feeling. At the gathering, people were able to speak, eat, hug or listen. It was moving. It was cathartic. And it mattered that the organization I work for took this kind of care.