What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
A very loaded question. Skydiving? I’ve conquered that. Take a vacation alone? Check. Be authentically me? That’s a bit more complicated.
For the majority of my career, I focused on being likable, approachable, relatable–making people feel comfortable with me as a young, Black woman. I spent the majority of my life in predominantly White or diverse schools and workplaces. I knew which weekend activities to leave out of my recap, how to prep myself for the myriad of questions if I decided to wear my hair natural and especially how to turn on my “professional voice”. Coming from a family of educators, I learned quickly that being articulate could be a gift and a curse. I was often “too White” for casual conversations with my Black friends or “well-spoken” and “articulate” with my non-Black friends and colleagues. In fear of linguistic discrimination–being told that my authentic voice was too ethnic–I steered clear from using any dialect or word choice deemed urban and unpolished.
Truthfully, I have put these techniques (and more) into practice for the past 8 years of my career. I assimilated well; you could call me a chameleon. Being able to adapt to any environment became a life mantra stemming from a deep fear of non-acceptance, which for me was equivalent to failure.
However, I slowly realized that I was suppressing core areas of my identity. I believed that there were several important areas of my life that were not interesting, valuable or worthy of being acknowledged. I began to feel small. Additionally, I would overthink my appearance, tone, dialect, word choice, music choice, behavior, hairstyle and even lunch selection. Who knew that eating chicken wings and mild sauce for lunch would stir up a riveting work conversation?
A shift in my perspective came in 2017 at the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit. During several sessions, there was a recurring theme: to focus on bringing the best version of yourself to work every single day. For me, that meant redefining how I displayed my authenticity. I realized that I was sabotaging others and myself by suppressing my superpowers and withholding information that made me unique and special. For many of my Black colleagues, we do this daily — to the point where we may not even recognize ourselves. However, I am here to share with our Digitas community that there is power in your story and your style.
Your story is a gift. It is a unique narrative and you are your own best storyteller. Sharing this keepsake allows you to educate others, enlighten and inspire them with your upbringing and life experiences. It’s your perspective that could be the catalyst to change the way we think about solving our client’s business challenges. It is your vision that can connect the dots between an idea and an outcome.
Your style paints a visual picture of who you are internally. From your hair shape, clothing preferences, tattoos, sneakers or the music blasting from your headphones, these are also gifts. Many of them invite a conversation and draw people closer to you. When you focus less on the norm and more on your personal comfort, you naturally highlight the best version of you. You inspire curiosity. You make decisions with grace. You walk with boldness and confidence and it is reflected in your work.
To any employee who has experienced or struggled in silence based on your identity, we hear you, see you and acknowledge you for being exactly who you are. Thank you for choosing Digitas as a safe space to share your gifts. It is through your authentic story and style that we are able to foster truth, connection and wonder.
Read more insights from Digitas here.
Author: Tatiana Arrington Higgins, Manager & HR, Digitas