The Masks We Wear
We all wear different masks. We use them as a social disguise to help get us through a variety of situations and often hide our vulnerability. The concept of bringing your whole self to work has been around for many years and many business books, such as Mike Robins’ Bring your whole self to work, argues that it’s possible to show more of your true self and become more satisfied, effective, and free. Whilst this may be true, it was previously a conscious approach, one which you could choose to take. It is no longer a choice for those who work from home.
As we approach the third year of the pandemic, in the UK- plan B forcing many back to virtual working- our lives continue to blur between work and home. More of ourselves, whether we like it or not, have been exposed to colleagues and clients. This may have been the appearance of a child or pet, to showing your taste in home décor. But for some, the exposure may have been more difficult such as revealing their sexual identities, family make-up or social-economic circumstances.
As a British Indian, I’ve spent my corporate life fleeting between covering myself to fit in, to shouting about my differences. The latter came only once I had established psychological safety with my peers. I remember feeling embarrassed when bhangra music blared when my headphones accidentally came out of my laptop. Or each time my mother called, needing to get up and find a private space as I wasn’t comfortable speaking in a different language in front of my colleagues. Then as a woman and a mother, I struggled to establish the right balance of how much of my true self I should be in the workplace, to not appear weak or less able than my male counterparts.
Business gurus like Brené Brown encourage us to be vulnerable and courageous to achieve the things we want in life, however, we need to realise that not everyone has the privilege or the safety to stop masking. Simply the thought of this can cause anxiety and have an acute effect on their mental or personal wellbeing. Whilst before you were able to choose with whom you could be vulnerable and authentic; we no longer have the luxury of that choice. For leaders and allies, it is important to consider that those from underrepresented groups have been conditioned to mask parts of themselves to conform to society. Taking off a mask requires a supportive and safe environment, empathy, and the willingness to listen and appreciate each person’s experience. Masks do not need to be taken off all at once, so from this year and each year going forwards, I intend to take one mask off at a time and show more of my authentic self.