How Inclusive Is Your Leadership?  

20 April 2021:

Many managers are ill-equipped to lead and connect with Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) employees. The physical traits, values, behaviors, and workplace identities of BIPOC employees continue to be compromised, minimized, and excluded. The reality is that professionalism has become the pseudonym for assimilation. Until white leaders become skilled at bridging (connecting with people different from them) and BIPOC leaders become skilled at bonding (connecting with people similar to them), BIPOC employees will not experience workplace inclusion.

During my research and work with over 100 mid- and senior-level BIPOC employees across multiple industries, a workplace impression-management strategy called “mirroring” emerged. Mirroring is a uniquely intrapersonal process that these employees undergo as they grapple with reflecting, mimicking, constructing, understanding, and portraying “professional” workplace identities that simultaneously signal allegiance to their managers, defy negative stereotypes, respect the ethos of their cultures, and propel their careers.

The Need for Bridging and Bonding

Mirroring is a form of self-scrutiny that centers around the BIPOC’s metaperceptions of their white manager. It’s an internal and iterative practice where BIPOC employees question and evaluate their white manager’s perceptions of their values, behaviors, gestures, and appearance. They compare their own traits to their white manager’s and decide if change is needed in order to be positively perceived and rewarded by them.

Employees who mirror are seeking to belong. They imitate their white manager’s traits to gain acceptance. Their workplace identities are like a distorted mirror that waffles between an authentic reflection and a shrinking and amalgamated expression of their metaperceptions. As a Black male senior leader from a Fortune 500 company told me, “People are scared of Black men with beards.” To appear less threatening and gain a sense of belonging, he shaved his beard to reflect the appearance of the white CEO and senior leaders at his company. Further investigation showed that 100% of this company’s Black and white male senior leaders did not have beards.

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Source: Harvard Business review


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