Work / life balance isn’t just about lifestyle, but identity too

By Laura Sears

In a world of endless self-promotion, from social media to career development, it’s hard to ask someone to be their true self at all times. In the workplace, with a professional façade that often differs from the way you behave on a night out with old school friends, this can be a seemingly impossible task – how do you blend multiple aspects of your personality to be always your authentic self?

I attended a webinar recently on diversity and inclusion, particularly focused on the double stigma of being a person of colour who also identifies as being in the LGBTQ+ community. The keynote speaker, Lady Phyll, was captivating, and discussed everything from the exploration of, and being unapologetic about, your identity, to facing the challenges that come with ticking multiple diversity boxes.

As the founder of Black Pride, and being a proud, black, “older” lesbian, she talked through how hard it can be to divorce yourself from warring protected characteristics, when one aspect of your identity is being challenged over another. A white bisexual woman might face an issue one way, but an Asian bisexual woman might experience the same from an opposing point of view. Two men in their sixties may have a completely different outlook on life if one of them is transgender. The issues are intersectional, and it’s important to bear that in mind when considering presentation of your own identity in relation others.

In a recent workplace survey from property trade publication, EG, almost half of those surveyed said they’d experienced microaggressions in the workplace; for those in the LGBTQ+ community, 31% said that they felt this was made worse by their identity.

It can be hard to respond in these situations, how to push back without knowing how the aggressor will react – additionally it’s worth considering that what might work outside the workplace with a stranger might not be the correct response to a colleague. They might not be being intentionally hostile or disrespectful, but it’s important to find a way to show them that their actions have made you uneasy.

In order to feel truly comfortable bringing your whole self to work, Lady Phyll impressed the importance of having good allies around you – the solidarity in utilising other people’s knowledge and experiences to amplify others. The webinar panel, made up of young persons of colour who all identified as being LGBTQ+, agreed.

There are clear benefits to having a diverse workforce; a variety of voices in the room allow for differences of opinion, leading to a solution that works for everyone. So, we need to facilitate this, and ensure that all voices are heard: not everyone feels as comfortable talking as openly as others, we must find ways to amplify the ones that matter to each of us.

Being a good ally, supporting those around you, is about empathy. Not making assumptions, listening when people talk, being aware of your own privileges and prejudices, and validating others’ lived experiences all go a long way to creating a safe space for everyone. Be kind, hold each other up and allow your peers to bring their full selves. Doing so will pay dividends in the long run.