What Does It Really Mean to Bring Your Authentic Self to Work?

We hear the term a lot — “authentic” — but what does it really mean to bring your authentic self to work? And why is it crucial for fostering an inclusive and diverse engineering workplace?

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First, achieving an authentic workplace depends on commitment of all members of the team to the task. This is why having diverse teams is important. If team members don’t feel like the “other” in the room because there are others who are “like them,” then some of the barriers that prevent minority groups from participating can be lessened, increasing the likelihood that these individuals will feel supported in sharing their professional ideas and work.

To be authentic at work, it is important to lead with empathy and realism. Owning up to questions you have may be nerve-wracking because you feel vulnerable admitting what you don’t know. Being authentic about that shortcoming, however, can open channels of communication that will encourage other team members to share ideas they’re developing without fear of social isolation. This will ultimately build a supportive work environment that is important for fostering creativity on a team. It is realistic to expect that not everyone knows everything, and it is empathetic to reflect and realize that oneself also does not have all of the answers.

It is also important to encourage others to accept the ups and downs of life. This will save the team from thinking they always have to be “on.” Lightning strikes when you least expect it, and downtime is a super-important aspect of creative problem-solving.

As well, it can take courage to bring your authentic self to work. Because each workplace presents its own unique challenges, it is important to bear in mind that ensuring everyone’s authentic selves are accepted in the workplace requires leadership on the part of individuals. By leading with empathy and fostering an environment in which a full team feels their individual contributions are accepted and appreciated, over time everyone can feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.

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Interested in Learning More?

For more tips on bringing your authentic self to work, visit SWE’s Advance Learning Center for these sessions and more:

Bringing Your Authentic Self to Work:

→ Building Rapport: The Lost Art and Science of Effective Workplace Relationships
→ Lead from a Distance: Virtual Work Essentials
→ Communication Cues Series #1: Counteract Socially-Conditioned Thinking
→ Communication Cues Series #2: Positive Non-Verbals
→ Communication Cues Series #3: Assert Yourself with Empathy
→ Quieting Your Inner Critic and Moving Beyond Self-Doubt


→ When No is Better than Yes: Negotiating for Time, Relationships, and Sanity in Academia

Are you a collegian or young professional looking for advice on a personal or professional matter?

Submit your questions to “Ask Alice.” Individual members of the SWE editorial board will answer questions on a rolling basis, drawing from their own experiences, insights, and expertise.

Alex Tavasoli, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto and founder of Solistra, provided the answer to this question. Tavasoli is a member of the SWE editorial board.