Should you bring your whole self to work? DCA Diversity Debate

Should you bring your whole self to work?

Earlier this week the Diversity Council Australia and National Australia Bank hosted its Annual Diversity Debate in Sydney.

This year the teams debated whether or not it’s a good idea to bring your whole self to work.

I began slightly on the fence having arrived at the conclusion that the sensible answer ought to turn on two things.

First, what exactly your ‘whole self’ entails and second, what is the workplace in which you are considering bringing that self to.

Before the debate began the 460 guests cast their votes in favour of the affirmative:  53% said it was a good idea to bring your whole self to work.

By the end of the night, after an entertaining and closely fought contest, moderated by the ABC’s Tony Jones, the speakers for the negative had successfully changed minds.

Effie Stephanides (AKA Mary Coustas), Alan Kirkland, the CEO of CHOICE and Jack Heath, the CEO of SANE Australia guided 57% of guests in the room to conclude we ought to leave a little more of ourselves at the door.

Heath began by stating that while in theory it would be fantastic for everyone to bring their whole self to work, the reality is that it’s not always wise. Our workplaces are not yet sufficiently accommodating that it’s a good idea. It’s not always safe.

To edge us closer to a place where perhaps it is safe and wise to let our guard down he urged us all to bring our common humanity to work. “It’s the container that celebrates and enhances our diversity.”

Effie brought the house down and I suspect whatever she had argued, she’d have shifted votes which is presumably why Tony Jones asked if she’d consider running for office. (The answer to that question was negative).

“The world would be a better place if Kanye West, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump brought only 5 percent of themselves to work and seriously that would still be too much,” she said.

How can you argue with that?

Alan Kirkland spoke of the burden that unveiling your true self at work can entail.

“I suspect we’ve all worked with a few people who we wished had brought a little less of themselves into the workplace,” he said.

The affirmative team, NAB’s Chief People Officer, Lorraine Murphy, comedian, screenwriter and speaker Lawrence Leung and Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine, were compelling however in mounting the case for authenticity.

“I believe in fostering a workplace culture where people feel comfortable to be their authentic selves… and not just because it’s a corporate motto,” Lorraine Murphy began. When we are authentic we build better relationships, enjoy work more and do a much better job. Nobody wants to follow a leader they don’t know.”

With two caveats  – staying within the law and adhering to the expectations of a civil society – Murphy urged us to bring our whole selves to work.

“As a comedian and writer who tells personal stories in theatre, film and TV, I know the value of sharing my authentic self in my work,” Leung says.  “It’s always better to forge stronger connections by celebrating our differences and being true to ourselves, instead of hiding behind masks.”

Karen Mundine spoke to the burden of pretending.

“Masking takes a lot of energy. It is demoralising. If I didn’t bring my whole self to work I couldn’t have influenced others the way I have,” she said.

The DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, said the result demonstrates that bringing your whole self to work can be a risk.

“Not everyone can or should bring their whole self to work,” she said. “This is especially so if people can’t behave appropriately or respectfully at work, or where workplaces are not inclusive. We need to find ways to allow people to be authentic but still maintain a professional and respectful working environment.”

There was consensus in the room from the beginning that we should strive to have workplaces that enable people to bring their whole selves to work.

But we are not there yet.

Where do you stand?

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