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Authenticity and Racism

In doing research on authenticity in organizations, I came across research on identity management, i.e., the “strategic decisions that individuals make regarding how they present their social identities to others” (Lyons, Wessel, Ghumman, Ryan, and Kim, 2014, 678). For example, individuals are often portrayed as having to make strategic choices between identify manifestation or identity suppression (Cha, Hewlin, Roberts, Buckman, Leroy, Steckler, Ostermeier, and Cooper , 2019, 645). In other words, individuals associated with a minority group may opt to suppress their identity (e.g., gay men acting heterosexual) or manifest their identity (e.g., black women wearing braids). Identity suppression can be viewed as a form or inauthenticity, and identity manifestation can be viewed as a form of authenticity. It will come as no surprise that identity suppression negatively impacts the wellbeing and identity manifestations positively impacts the wellbeing of diverse individuals (Madera, King and Hebl, 2012). More specifically, scholars presented that concealing one’s identity triggers tremendous anxiety and fear as a result of “living a life that can be collapsed at any moment” (Goffman, 1963).

Yet, research has shown that in the hiring context, identity manifestation has shown to negatively impact career outcomes. Specifically, minority applicants expressing strong ethnic identifications were found to be rated less favorably in terms of dominance and professionals (Opie and Phillips, 2015). Further, externally perceived authentic behavior of applicants had positive impact on hiring decisions only for candidates who on paper already were perceived as quality candidates (Cha et al., 2021, 651).

In short, minorities are dammed if they suppress and dammed if they manifest their identities! I realize that some of this research was conducted several years ago. Is it naïve and wishful dreaming of mine that I hope that things have at least somewhat improved for minorities in the workplace? Most or many organizations are committed to having a diverse workforce, whether due to clients and customers applying pressure or out of realization how much inclusion and diversity adds to their bottom line. However, it takes a lot of proactive work on so many levels (e.g., hiring, managing and promoting) and in so many areas (e.g., HR, company leadership, education) to truly eliminate racism and enable minorities to be authentic so that all employees have the opportunity to perform at their best!

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