I don’t want to bring my “whole self” to work

A reader writes:

I am so excited about employers’ new-found willingness to assess and improve the degree to which they promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace these past few months, and have been collaborating with the HR department to do so in my own workplace (I am not in HR). However, I’m not sure about the catchphrase that many people (though not the ones in HR) use to describe the ideal culture they want to create, one in which we all “bring our whole selves to work.”

I know that this should not be taken literally as “anything goes; let it all hang out”– it’s more like “everyone should feel like they belong no matter their identity.” But the language still really irks me, as it seems to suggest that we all relax our professional boundaries.

So I have to ask — what’s your take on “bring your whole self to work”? Is this the new management wave that I need to get on board with? Or should I keep pushing for a rebrand?

Yeah, we don’t really want everyone to bring their whole selves to work.

I don’t want the racist guy to bring his racist views to work. I don’t want the person who believes men and women can’t be trusted to have a business lunch on their own to bring that to work. I don’t want the conspiracy theorist, or the evangelist of The Secret, or the angry guy, or the person who is obsessed with everyone having babies to bring that to work. I definitely don’t want anyone bringing their sex life to work.

Moreover, it’s often not safe for employees to bring their whole selves to work. When people have marginalized identities and work in environments that are less than optimally inclusive, they may have very good reasons — like discrimination — for declining to be fully authentic at work.

You’re right that typically the intent behind the phrase is “we want people to feel welcome and included here.” But then that’s what the language should center around. (And companies also need to think about what work they need to do to make that possible for everyone, not just people whose identities happen to be comfortably mainstream.)

{ 288 comments… read them below }

    1. Dust Bunny*

      The more I read this site the more I appreciate my own workplace. And coworkers. And relatives.

      My workplace gets as much of me as it needs (and wants, if it only knew).

    2. Evan Þ.*

      The difficulty is, then you need to make sure everyone understands what their “work self” should be.

      But you should be doing that anyway.

      1. D'Arcy*

        Yes, but the entire problem is that, historically, “work self” has been defined by “be a respectable, heteronormative white cis man, or as close to it as you can”.

    3. Amethystmoon*

      Exactly. There are many things I prefer to keep silent about at work. I don’t want to be the cause of arguments.

  1. CatCat*

    Look, if your whole self wants me to call your boyfriend “master,” please do not bring that to work.

      1. livelaughandrun*

        Oh seriously that killed me! thanks for the share but soooo many things I wanted to reply to on the comments section(in good ways).

    1. Captain Raymond Holt*

      People’s sexual selves are part of themselves. An important part of themselves!

      And not to be brought to work.

    2. Marthooh*

      Also if your full legal name is “The Very Reverend Doctor Lord Skeevington Whatnot”, feel free to leave most of it at home.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I was going to comment about being disappointed Alison didn’t use that as an example. Glad it wasn’t just me thinking it!

            1. SarahKay*

              I have a mug at work that says “My coffee* mug”, then in smaller font “*because apparently I’m not allowed to drink gin at work”. I don’t take it to meetings with off-site heads, but it’s a well-recognised (and popular, judging by the comments) one on site.

    4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Dropped in the comments to add this. So let me add to you, YES.
      You are paying for my time, my knowledge, my skill. In addition, I will give you my attention and my respect. I will even be excited about work sometimes. That’s it.
      You will not get my spirit, my heart, my soul. Whatever you want to call it.
      I go to work, to work. Not to fulfill my life.
      It’s a business, not a life partner.
      To paraphrase, “Give unto Little Caesars…”
      My friends and family get the other stuff.
      And not even all of THAT.

    5. Feotakahari*

      That one was such an interesting contrast to the religious one whose husband was limiting what work she could do. One’s a little irritating, but you can push back because it’s not a protected class. The other’s impacting the work, but you have to talk to a lawyer to figure out how you can approach it without getting sued.

  2. AnotherKate*

    Yep, I also find this very annoying. I find companies tend to put the cart before the horse with a lot of these diversity/equity/inclusion initiatives, where they basically forget that what needs to be addressed is systemic stuff on THEIR end, and instead end up focusing on individual employees in a way that asks them to be “vulnerable” or share information about their lives without actually creating the underpinning workplace infrastructure that would allow them to do so safely. There’s no point sitting around in a feelings circle when you aren’t sure if sharing those feelings will get you pushed out or fired or just harm your career.

    1. kt*

      Yep. This happens again & again in academia and corporate life. You take your star Black employee for instance and put them on a diversity initiative and ask them to speak about racism they’ve experienced and then they get treated to four 90-minute phone calls with senior members of the company explaining that that wasn’t racism, it was surely something else, and will employee lead a recruitment drive at HBCUs at which they sing the praises of the institution? Sure we have a recruitment group in HR and you’re in systems automation and you don’t actually like talking to people or recommend the company and we won’t give you any additional resources for this but you don’t need resources or training in recruitment, you’re qualified by virtue of your skin color! And could you apply for a grant to get a trainer on racial equity? I mean, you’re not a grant-writer and it’s supposed to come from the president but you can write it and the president will just sign what you wrote, because you’ll know what to say because look at you! But remember DEI efforts are not considered in the promotion process because promotion is based on excelling at your job duties as outlined in the job description. We will rate you, though, on how “authentic” you are in your interactions. And how polite.

      1. Lora*


        Yeah, this. CurrentEmployer demanded that the Minorities and Women should write 500-word essays on why we should even be included in the Diversity Committee, which would meet after hours and require a 10-15 hours/week commitment but not count towards anything and we cannot use regular work hours to do it and we should all feel very welcome to share our feelings and crap. When I shared my feeling that this was downright insulting and exploitative and they can hire a consultant like everyone else, they didn’t appreciate that I had brought that particular feeling to work…

        1. Nita*

          O.o They made you do what? Way to get off to a good start on promoting diversity and inclusion. Also, 10-15 hours a week, after hours? For how long?! I can’t imagine what they need so much time for. And a small part of me wonders if the committee heads *do* get to bill the time, so they’re interested in making the initiative into weeks of interminable meetings. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. Hoping reason prevails.

          1. Lora*

            As near as I can tell nobody signed up for it and they dropped the whole thing. Haven’t heard a peep about it in months. They were most likely going for apathy and nobody signing up for a buttload of work, and they got that, they just didn’t anticipate anyone telling them they were being disrespectful and rude.

            They have a Women In STEM type club already which occasionally organizes lunch-and-learns and photo shoots for people who need headshot type pictures and Motivational Speakers sort of thing. We never had that many BIPOC folks to begin with and the few we have are looking for other opportunities and frustrated.

        2. Boop*


          Guaranteed when someone complains about no women/minorities on the Diversity Committee employer will say they offered the opportunity but no one took them up on it…


        3. Coffee Bean*

          Wait – so only women and minorities had to write the essays? And was this to be a preview of the ideas you would bring to the committee?? Or to justify that you should be part of the committee? This approach just seems a** backwards.

      2. Double A*

        YES. This is a point I am constantly bringing up in our antiracism group at work. Just constantly naming that we need to give people the space and opportunity to step into leadership on these issues if they want, but also to be cognizant of not asking them to be the Diversity Ambassadors and have to take on a bunch of extra unpaid work and emotional labor. It’s a tricky balance between it being just white people leading our diversity initiatives but not demanding that POC do all the work. I’m sure we will mess up on this front, but I am hoping that by constantly keeping on eye out on this dynamic means we can spot it and address it as it happens.

      3. miss chevious*

        Yeah, we had a group call in which one of the senior people suggested that all the non-white people on the call tell their stories of racism so that we could “understand where they were coming from.” Several of us who were at the same level pushed back *hard* on the idea that BIPOC should have to share their personal experiences for her benefit and she dropped it pretty quickly.

    2. Crivens!*

      So well said, thank you. I found this to be a huge, frustrating, and confusing thing in academia.

      1. Artemesia*

        Academia chews up women and minority members on make work committees that are not rewarded in tenure while young promising men have the decks cleared to focus on their research. Unless a woman is advised well and smart enough to avoid this, she can waste this time on things that lead to failure. If an organization wants to diversify they can damn well put young tenured faculty — preferably men on committees to make this happen.

        1. Anonymous Librarian*

          This. My university requires that all search committees include “diversity”–which they define exclusively as racial diversity. Academic libraries in the US are pretty white, and mine is no exception. So the very few POC on the staff are overwhelmed with search committee responsibilities, which takes time away from their primary responsibilities–the responsibilities that actually result in promotion and tenure. It’s a great example of a well-intended policy that harms the people it’s designed to help.

    3. ThatGirl*

      My company just started some sort of initiative revolving around “company culture” and honest to god, two months, a questionnaire and 3 meetings later I still have NO IDEA what actual, concrete steps management is going to take. None. It’s all very vague and corporate-speaky.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yup. Been through that.

        At my latest job they’d actually just done this *and* taken concrete steps to change things and I’m so grateful, because that meant with covid they’ve been pretty decent. Room for improvement, but much better than my previous employers (I still know people at those companies).

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Agree. Organizations really need to work on these issues on THEIR end first and foremost, making sure their work policies are fair and inclusive to everyone. It starts at the top, not with the individual employees. But like many things in this country, the blame or onus gets pushed down to the level of the individual.

      1. Trotwood*

        I work for a large international company, and they really are trying with respect to cultivating a diverse, inclusive workforce, but it’s just hard to overcome the longstanding, structural lack of diversity. I took part in a focus group (online, anonymized) for LGBT+ employees and they kept asking us questions about whether we could find mentorship that was inclusive of our identities and things. And it was like, of course not! Where are these LGBT+ leaders who are supposed to be mentoring us? I know one out queer manager, and I think maybe there are a few directors somewhere, but not in the part of the company I work in. There is no one to mentor me on how to be an out gay man in a technical role. There’s basically no one doing it as far as I can see. No matter how many people put “ally” stickers on their laptops, you can’t make up for the lack of actual LGBT+ people in leadership.

    5. many bells down*

      This is something we spend A LOT of time talking about, because one of my organization’s core principles is inclusion and equity and yet… nearly our whole staff is white, and we’re based in a very white high-income area. We’re looking to fill a position right now, and while we’d like to have a POC we also can’t be like “here’s your new job and a bunch of emotional labor for you!”

    6. Pippa K*

      Agree! Except that I don’t think they “forget” about the systemic aspects of this; as a grizzled veteran of academic institutions, I’m confident that they’re deliberately focusing on individuals instead of systemic change. They want the benefits of being seen to recognize the problem without the costs (to people very comfortably placed by the current system) of solving it. This places the burden mostly on the people primarily disadvantaged by the inequities in the current system. I believe that’s what my university calls “empowerment,” which is notable for never involving any actual power.

      1. soon to be former fed really*

        The “Spook Who Sat by the Door” phenomenon of performatively addressing race in the workplace. I’m black and boy do I have stories I could tell about this.

      2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        I think our entire society is like this. Recycling, climate change, pollution, waste and consumerism, racism, mental health, education, what have you — if there is a problem, then the entities that benefit from the status quo will try to put the onus on individuals to change their behaviour to fix it rather than do anything themselves.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yes. So much yes.
          I’m sorry, Smokey the Bear, but no matter how careful I am with my campfire, I can’t prevent lightning strikes that *also* cause wildfires. Or the climatic conditions that make the fires worse.

      3. AnotherKate*

        You’re absolutely right; I was reading my post after I hit submit and would definitely edit that word if I could. It’s not always innocent; it’s certainly always convenient.

    7. Dr J*

      I came hear to say this exact thing. And it’s folks with marginalized identities who stand to lose the most from that vulnerability. Terrible practice.

      1. Nita*

        Yep. Just got a survey on the topic, and this question gave me more pause than the rest of the survey combined. No, I’m not interested in bringing my whole self to work, thankyouverymuch. My coworkers are great but I feel a lot more comfortable not wearing all of “how I am different” on my sleeve. First, it has nothing to do with the job. Second, there are identity things I don’t feel comfortable sharing even with close friends, even though I know it’s irrational, because I have generations of people who paid dearly for the “different” behind me.

    8. Anon for this one*

      This, x1000.

      My company does a full day all-staff meeting every year. This year the theme was diversity with an emphasis on helping disabled customers. But this week the top brass announced a change and when I mentioned that it may disproportionately affect our disabled customers, everybody just sort of shrugged and carried on with the plan. Making a big deal about how inclusive your company is when you haven’t actually done the work of ensuring that people are, in fact, being included, just makes everybody distrust you.

    9. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Or if hearing them will harm someone. I am not qualified to be a counselor or a confessor. I trained to do a job.
      “Treat your coworkers with respect” is one thing. “Treat” your coworkers, full stop, is out side my purview.

    10. Tidewater 4-1009*

      “they basically forget that what needs to be addressed is systemic stuff on THEIR end,”

      I don’t think they forget. I think they’re ignoring it. It’s so much easier to put it on the employees, right? Then they won’t have to make the effort of making any real change.
      It’s just a management fad to make them look good to each other and the public.

    11. Nanani*

      That’s because putting more work on those with less power is a lot easier than making meaningful systematic changes that might make more powerful people ~uncomfortable~

  3. iNot*

    Vulnerability and authenticity are some of the buzz words thrown around in my industry constantly (higher education). That is a privilege that non-marginalized communities often don’t have, in my opinion. Like Allison said, it’s not safe for everyone to bring their whole self to work. So while I will share to the extent of my comfort level, very few people are going to get the whole me (I’m a black female). A mentor told me she was surface level social but deep level distant, and I have taken that to heart.

    1. fposte*

      And I feel “authenticity” goes to very bad places. Like honesty, it tends to be wielded as a championing of self-indulgence. I would much rather work with inauthentically well-behaved people than authentic horrors, but it’s also perfectly authentic to make a choice to behave well even if you have urges to behave badly. It makes me think of the occasional letter writer we’ve had to feels it’s inauthentic to say hello to people because they don’t really want to greet them.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        it’s also perfectly authentic to make a choice to behave well even if you have urges to behave badly.

        Yes. The idea that a first impulse or base instinct is somehow the truest part of someone drives me bonkers.

      2. Mel_05*

        So much yes.

        My first impulses are not more authentic than a well considered action. Sometimes they’re less authentic, because they’re influenced less by my thoughts on the situation and more by the fact that I slept badly and some jwrk cut me off in traffic.

      3. Elise*

        I had a coworker who resented her supervisor asking her not to throw the F bomb around at leadership meetings because that’s just who she was.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Same with those, “I tell it like it is,” people. No, you don’t. You blurt and think you shouldn’t have consequences.

          1. MtnLaurel*

            +1 YES! “I tell it like it is” means “I have no regard for anyone’s feelings but my own,” in my experience.

      4. NapkinThief*

        Very much this. Real, semi-joking conversation had with “tell it like it is” coworker:

        “I’m not mean! I just say what I honestly think!”
        “Fergusina, your thoughts are mean.”

      5. AuroraLight37*

        Yes! My authentic self is polite, because that’s what I was raised to be. It is not natural for me to be rude to others, it’s actually very uncomfortable. I would have to work harder at being rude than I do at being polite.

    2. Pippa K*

      Yeah, “show your vulnerability” – haha no, you’ve spent 20 years teaching me not to do that. You’ll see my dented, battle-scarred armor, and that’s it. If you want, I can tattoo a flower on it?

    3. Junior Dev*

      “Vulnerable” means “woundable.” Capable of being hurt. I work in information security. In that context, a “vulnerability” means something bad could happen, someone could use that to hurt the company, and we are obligated to fix it.

      When someone who has power over you–your boss, your company–says “I want you to be vulnerable,” they are saying “I want to be able to hurt you even more than I already could.” I’m sure they “don’t mean it that way.” But it’s terribly tone-deaf and tells me the speaker is naive at best and malicious at worst.

      I think often what they mean is “I want you to trust me.” Trust is earned, not demanded.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        This is making me think…we go through the interview process showing and describing our “best work self.” You get the job and then they ask, “so tell me, how can I make you crack?
        Why? If I show signs of cracking up while doing the job, let’s address that and see if we can work through the situation. Change hours, more resources, training.
        If my work is fine, what kind of twisted academic exercise, is “tell me what will break you.”?

      2. AuroraLight37*

        Yes, being vulnerable at work sounds like such an unhealthy, dangerous thing to me. I can be authentic without being vulnerable.

      3. TeapotNinja*

        Being vulnerable works only if the every person (not just your boss…everyone) you’re being vulnerable in front of and the company as a whole are capable of empathy and have the tools to do that in the workplace.

        This is not true in almost every workplace on the planet.

    4. Homebody*

      Yes, 100%. Vulnerability and authenticity, I have found, tend to be code for poor boundaries in the workplace. Or a cover for bad behavior (“If you can’t handle me at my worst than you don’t deserve me at my best”).

      I am not a POC so I do not have to deal with the absolute bull you are put through, but being a female in a very male dominated field has taught me not to give people any more excuses than they already have to not be taken seriously. If that means being more serious at work than I am with my social life, then so be it!

    5. Nesprin*

      God the idea of bringing “vulnerability” to work is Orwellian. I am already vulnerable to my higher ups because I need rent and food.

    6. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      A mentor told me she was surface level social but deep level distant, and I have taken that to heart.

      This is exactly how I’ve operated at nearly all of my jobs, but I haven’t heard it articulated this way. I’m going to carry this with me as well, thank you. Operating in this way has protected me in so many roles. I don’t come across as icy and aloof, but I don’t give more than I’m comfortable sharing.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yes, it’s a wonderful phrase. I, too, have tried for many years to cultivate a warm, approachable surface, while not giving away anything of importance.

        1. Pennyworth*

          Lightbulb moment! Now I understand why I know about some co-workers private lives and they know next to nothing about mine. I don’t even do it deliberately.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes. Expecting people to bring their whole selves to their job is unrealistic. You’re there to work, not make friends. Yes it’s important to get along with others and work together, but it doesn’t require you to share your entire identity with everyone. I’ve always been shy with new people, and it takes a lot of time for me to be able to trust anyone before I start letting more of my true personality come through. And the list of people I’ve worked for/with that I trust is very short.

    8. miss chevious*

      “surface level social but deep level distant”

      That is a *great* way to put it, and I think an appropriate way for coworkers to relate to one another. Sure, I have found a few people at work over the years who are “my people” and we are legitimately close outside of work, but those are the exceptions. “Surface level social” is what everyone else gets.

    9. Anon*

      100%. As a minority female, I can totally relate. My boss recently told me that in order to move up within the organization, that I needed to make more social relationships/be more vulnerable because since I have a business-like personality at work with strong boundaries, that others in our department don’t view me as a leader. Ugh.

  4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    Story of my life is stress about this – and I’m a straight guy. Can’t help but worry about others.

    I am black and also really really neurotic (but under control of it) so there’s that.

  5. Littorally*

    Yeah, I don’t love it as a phrase either. Particularly when I was early in my transition, I’d hear it and mentally say, “Hell, I’m not even sure who my whole self IS yet!!”

    Still, as a counterpoint to the idea that people ought to leave their personal lives at the door and shouldn’t bring in anything about themselves besides “good little worker drone,” it does have a nice level of pointedness.

    1. Quill*

      My whole self probably doesn’t need to be writing novels on company time or keeping bees in my cubicle.

    2. MsPantaloons*

      Yes I think of it this way – like, it’s ok to have an off day, it’s ok to take care of yourself, don’t try to be a perfect worker robot. I see how it reads the other way as the letter describes, but I guess this is my way of reading a better (and more useful) intent into it

      1. Littorally*

        I don’t think you’re ‘reading a better […] intent’ into it so much as reading the original intent, based on Cyndy W’s comment below, really.

      2. KB*

        I’ve personally used the phrase about bringing whole selves to work, and I’ve only ever thought about it in these specific terms– its okay for my colleagues and for me to have bad days and not have to hide them or put up a front to be considered a good and capable employee AND we can/will/do support each other in ways that are welcomed and appropriate when those bad days are happening.

        I’m guessing my interpretation is heavily influenced by working in community-based mental health and with explicitly queer organizations, but I’ve honestly never heard that phrase and thought it as meaning “we want people to feel welcome and included here.” That is puzzling to me.

        1. JustaTech*

          I think the “we want people to feel welcome and included here.” with regard to “bringing your whole self to work” is that, in theory, you shouldn’t *have* to hide or ignore large parts of your identity in order to do well at work.
          Like, you shouldn’t have to be in the closet, or pretend you’re not a woman, or not a parent, or not a POC at work.

          I just read the “Women in the Workplace” report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org and one of the things that came up in the “authentic self” section was Black women talking about how they didn’t feel that they could be upset about the racial violence this summer. That they couldn’t react *ask Black women* at work and acknowledge that it was hard.

          I don’t think that’s how “bringing your whole self to work” is always meant or implemented, but I think that’s the origin.

    3. Not out but trying in Academia*

      Exactly, plus I’ve been receiving so much pushback on just removing my deadname from my email account that to be honest, I don’t think this place is as “inclusive” as I was lead to believe. Seems to me that one side of HR doesn’t know what the other is really doing.

      1. JustaTech*

        My husband has had several trans folks on his team and he was really pissed to discover that even though everyone in the company was super careful about not deadnaming anyone, Concur still deadnamed all of his employees.
        Everywhere else it was right, and there was no reason for Concur to show him anyone’s full name, but there it was. And there’s nothing his company can do to fix it.

        1. allathian*

          That really sucks. I’m so sorry. People should be able to use the name they want, especially if they’ve legally changed it.

          My Windows login at work still uses my maiden name, and there’s nothing I can do about that. It doesn’t bother me, but I really feel for my coworker who started working for us while she was married. She reverted to her maiden name when she got a divorce after her ex tried to kill her. But she can’t get her Windows login changed and it’s still her married name. AFAIK we don’t have any trans* employees, but if we do, they have my sympathy if they have to use their deadname every time they log in.

  6. Trout 'Waver*

    My “whole self” has some pretty jagged corners that have to be sanded off to get along with everyone else at work.

    When I was younger and more naive, I tried bringing my whole self to work. It didn’t go well.

    1. Voodoo Priestess*

      I can relate! I refer to my “sharp edges” sometimes and do my best to soften them.

    2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      I’m with you. No one wants me to bring my whole self to work. I am…a lot.

      1. SweetestCin*

        Yes. I am as well, and at least outside of work, I refuse to apologize for it.

        At work? It goes better if I can not necessarily tone it down so much as “professional it up” a bit.

    3. Mel_05*

      Seriously. No one I work with needs my whole self. They need the part of me that can pass over annoying quirks and thank people for irrelevant suggestions.

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I agree with you, OP.
      Nobody wants to see my acid, corrosive side, because that means I’m stressed and burning out. (Also, my fangirl side and search history have a place in Tumblr and nowhere else)

    5. cmcinnyc*

      I hear this. My whole self is always threatening to show up but my more mature /experienced self talks her down.

      To me, I hear: We Will Monetize Your Whole Self! There Will Be Nothing Left For You! It’s All Ours Now!

      No. Thank you.

    6. KoiFeeder*

      My whole self is inside a box, because instead of a personality it’s just a rabid badger.

      No one wants that, and you need plate armor and a catchpole to be qualified to deal with it.

  7. Cyndy W*

    The reason that the term “whole self” has taken wave is because early Diverity, Equtiy, Inclusion (DEI) workers, particularly black workers, recognized that they were not able to bring their whole selves to work. Specifically, their cultural norms and realities were not seen as being in line with “professional standards” aka white professional culture. In particular, the way that “professionalism” is used as a mask for employers to view their employees solely as producers of labor instead of fully realized people with feelings, emotions, etc. In many cultures of color, there is a higher emphasis on the emotional reality of people, which is often seen as “unprofessional” in white culture. White professional culture also often emphasizes politeness/harmony above all else, which sounds neutral in theory, but often has the effect of mistaking necessary criticism and other ways of thinking as inherently confrontational when it’s not. Therefore, when people from marginalized cultures try/tried to bring their perspectives to work, they found they were not welcomed.

    Anyways, it’s obviously not a perfect saying. And it can often be coopted by bad actors (as almost all DEI practices are vulnerable to) but I just wanted to root this in a history where it was inherently developed by the marginalized people you mentioned in your response: people who didn’t/don’t feel safe bringing themselve to work but are trying to change that in their workplaces, people of color who want to be seen as their whole selves.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I’m not sure I like calling it *white* professional culture, because that implies it’s somehow intrinsic to white people. I don’t think white people performing “professional standards” are expressing their whole selves. I think “professional standards” are performative regardless of race.

      Honestly, I see it more as a socioeconomic status thing. Of course, due to systemic racism, that’s impossible to divorce from race. I do completely agree that “professional standards” are absolutely used as a cudgel by bad actors to disproportionately oppress minorities.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I mean, you’re right that professional standards are inherently performative, but it’s also always been white people SETTING those standards. And it’s not a great look to be dismissive of someone trying to explain a non-white person’s POV and the historical perspective.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Yeah, but are they setting those standards because they’re white or because they’re the ones in power?

          I’m not being dismissive. Writing off any disagreement as being dismissive is in itself very dismissive. Calling it “white professional standards” completely ignores the marginalization of LGBT, poor, rural, mental-health impacted, etc. people when it comes to those professional standards.

      2. Ryn*

        The traits are not intrinsic to white people, but they are a key part of how white supremacy maintains itself as the dominant culture. There’s a massive difference between how white folks and folks of color are treated when they break those norms. It’s should also be added that within socioeconomic status, BIPOC folks still deal with more marginalization and oppression than their white peers, so saying it’s just a socioeconomic status thing is class reductionism.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes! Also, for folks who haven’t been exposed to a lot of this, I think sometimes people hear “white supremacy culture” and think of, like, skinhead white supremacists and know they’re not that and so they’re confused … so I think it’s helpful to point out that in this context the term is being used to mean, literally, a culture that assigns white people and white-shaped norms more value than others.

          2. Trout 'Waver*

            I was unaware that there had been a conclave of white people and they appointed you to speak unilaterally for everyone.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Describing white culture and its impact on non-white people within it isn’t speaking for all white people, any more than describing French culture is speaking for all French people.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                Yes but saying, “(Cultural norms and standards) feel neutral to us” specifically is speaking for all white people. The secular expression of Christmas is a white people norm and standard. You’re white. Does that feel neutral to you?

                1. TTDH*

                  You’re underlining the answer without even knowing it. To say “neutral to us”, speaking of a group one belongs to, is to talk about that group in a general sense. To say “You’re white. Does that feel neutral to you?” to Alison is to talk about a specific person. Alison (or any theoretical person) wouldn’t have feel that a given cultural norm was neutral in order to say that a group she belonged to considered it to be a norm. Trying to equate the individual and the collective only leads to anecdata.

          3. some dude*

            This is an aside, but I’ve read Okun and Jones’s framing of “white supremacy culture,” and…I disagree with some of it? Like some of it I immediately recognize (defensiveness, no open conflict, etc) but I think they make assumptions about a, to what extent “professionalism = whiteness” (and particularly, disfunctional and toxic management practices = whiteness) and to what extent these elements of professionalism are so non-native to BIPOC folks as to be insurmountable obstacles, or that in order to be successful in a white collar environment they have to radically reinvent management. It seems to make massive generalizations about how billions of people like to communicate and operate and exist at work. Or even whether the traits they label “white supremacist” are necessarily bad. Like how do you run a successful organization without a sense of urgency? I think the framing can be overly critical and negative of protestant european work values while idealizing the ways some communities of color organize, as if it is a zero sum game. Even within BIPOC you have such a range of cultures and practices that to make generalizations feels disingenuous. I’m in an area where there Okun and Jones are widely cited by nonprofit orgs and there is a lot of experimentation with different leadership models and different organization structures, and I am curious to see how well they play out and if they offer viable alternatives to current management structures and/or create more nurturing places for BIPOC staff. Even the one they cite in the study (whom I’m aware of) is relatively new so maybe too early to celebrate as a success.

        1. Ray Gillette*

          Yep. Here’s a really simple, basic example: I don’t have to change the way I speak at work. My normal manner of speaking is already considered “professional.”

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          Well, good thing I never said it was *just* a socioeconomic thing, then. As I said above, calling it “white professional culture” ignores other non-racial statuses that also disproportionately lead to a greater impact when people break those norms.

    2. EPLawyer*

      When I read this I immediately thought about hair. “Professional hair” is code for Anglo Saxon hair (I’m white, Italian, trust me when I say I understand about the hair). Especially Women of Color could not wear their hair naturally without being penalized. Such that LAWS had to be FREAKING PASSED to disallow discrimination based on HAIR. We aren’t talking hot pink hair in the whiteshoe law firm. We are talking, allowing a Women of Color to wear her natural hair color in its natural state of curls. So yeah, bring your whole self means, hair and all.

      It oes not mean your whole self that thinks keeping it real is an excuse to be rude.

        1. Anonymous*

          Perfect enameled teeth. That reminds me of when i first moved here to Mississippi. I had never seen a grill before. I thought they must have had really bad dentists growing up. Until i questioned one of the huys about it. He wore it sometimes, and sometimes not. I asked him what happened to his gold crowns.

      1. some dude*

        I had a classmate who was Black who listed in her interests “natural hair.” I didn’t understand what she meant, and the fact that not treating your hair is so exceptional that it needs its own support network blew my mind. I was totally ignorant to the issue of black women having their hair policed.

      2. Anonymous*

        I really like the appearance of natural hair on black people. It is gorgeous. And they can style it so many different ways. Without chemical traetments.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      Thanks for this – I was attempting to get at this with my comment below, but you said it much better than I did.

      Another way to think about it: the distance between one’s “regular” self and one’s “professional” self is much wider for many marginalized folk than it is for straight white upper middle class men. Marginalized people tend to have to do a lot more code switching and hiding of their ordinary ways of existing in the world – policing their language, not sharing their experiences, etc. – and that’s unfair, exhausting, discriminatory, and ultimately bad for business.

    4. Olive Hornby*

      Yes, this. There’s a great book called Covering that really expanded my thinking on this–the author Kenji Yoshino is a gay Japanese-American man, and he talks about the ways in which people from marginalized groups are asked to “cover” evidence of their identity, including speech patterns, hair styles, queer people not mentioning partners, etc., especially in the workplace. Part of the reason he’s so interested in the topic is that he’s a law professor, and this is an area where anti-discrimination law really struggles to keep up–if you’re a black woman fired for being “too aggressive,” it’s hard to succeed with an anti-discrimination claim, even if the firing is reflective of anti-black racism, and seemingly “race-neutral” dress codes, for example, generally aren’t.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to check it out.

        I think there’s value to the concept when it’s “we strive to be the kind of company where people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.” It’s when it’s framed as something the individual is responsible for doing for the good of the company that it gets really problematic.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          The thing about that is, there is no scenario in which people will feel comfortable showing their whole selves at work in the sense of expressing everything they’re feeling and doing at every moment.
          Because the boss has the power to judge and fire you for having a bad day, or whatever they don’t like about you. No matter how laid-back, truly inclusive, supportive, etc. a workplace is, there’s always that power imbalance that will keep people wary.

      2. Toothless*

        Kenji Yoshino is great! I had to do a DEI training for work and it had a presentation from him about covering.

      3. Le Sigh*

        Thank you, I will check this out.

        My main interactions with bringing your whole self to work have been what some others commented on: witnessing companies failing to do anything on their end or clarify what it means to them, and then foisting the responsibility on employees and often punishing them when they do it wrong.

        Understanding the whole self from this perspective is really helpful. I’m trying to enact internal changes in the office and it helps to understand why it matters, what it actually means, and where it comes from — instead of reflexively dismissing it because so much of corporate America has co-opted it poorly.

      4. TC*

        Yes. I am queer and manage a small team. The only person who knows I’m queer is the one who I’ve worked with in person since before we were fully remote (not 2020 remote, years-ago remote). Someone else in the organization does for other reasons. And that’s it. I manage others who live in a different country. I’ve never talked about my spouse with them, except a rare generic “we”. My new-ish boss doesn’t know, either.

        Due to most of us being fully remote, we aren’t really ones for much personal chit chat honestly (which I find refreshing– because it also means there’s almost no office drama!), and I’ve never felt comfortable bringing it up. Even though I have an LGBTQ organization at work I could join, I haven’t. I just don’t know that I feel comfortable bringing that part of me into work, because I don’t know who else might be judging me or letting it change their perception of my ability to perform my job.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Another aspect to this that I have become aware of thanks to commenters on this site is the use of AAVE in the workplace being considered unprofessional. I’ve always been one of those “I am silently judging your grammar” people and it’s been a good reframe for me to acknowledge that grammar is different.

      1. Le Sigh*

        +1 this. I was that person, though it was treated as a bit of a joke in the office, as one of my quirks. Except I’ve realized it might not come across that way to everyone and have a different affect on them than I intended. And on some level it probably seeped in my brain and I judged more than I realized. And that can have the affect of directly or indirectly enforcing classist or racist barriers in my own workplace.

      2. Anonymous*

        It took me working with colleagues from other countries (and living in other countries) to drop this habit. I’ve known too many incredibly smart people whose grammar stunk or whose English wasn’t quite 100%. When I lived abroad people would treat me like I was 8 because that’s the level I spoke at. It was infuriating. I do my best not to repeat that behavior with non-native speakers here.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I dropped this behavior before I traveled abroad (per my comment above), but … being in a country where I barely spoke the language (I had been taking lessons and practicing but it was rudimentary at best) really drove home how ridiculous it is to judge people like this. Learning languages is hard and I remember how grateful I was when someone was patient and kind to me. Or just cracked a joke to easy my stress.

    6. Me Mywholeself and I*

      When I was recently interviewing for a job and one of my interviewers said she could bring her whole self to work, this is what I read it as and it actually made me feel relieved. It’s good to know this isn’t everyone’s view of it thought and I really appreciate being able to learn that.

      (Got the job btw)

    7. Nita*

      I see what you mean :( I had this crop up at work a few years ago, and I still don’t know what the right thing to do was. What do you do when one person’s idea of bringing her whole self to work is to call people “honey” and other pet names, and the other one’s idea of bringing her whole self to work is to… not be called pet names when she’s a grown woman? Ugh. Neither person meant to insult the other, but, yeah, a bit of a personality conflict with some cultural background thrown in.

  8. EPLawyer*

    Yeah, all ya’all don’t want to bring my quilting, football obsessed self to work. It doesn’t even have to be the obvious non-professional things like Alison mentioned. It can be as simple as keeping work life and personal life separate. Not everything belongs in the office.

    1. F.M.*

      I for one would love to see a colleague’s cubicle with a football-themed quilt hanging on the wall, but I generally agree with your point. Even in my very relaxed work environment, where arguments about Marvel movies and jokes about really obscure Bible stories pass by overhead (when we get to be there in person), there are parts of myself that are reserved for home. Or, say, the small invite-only queer group made up of people from the office.

      1. Quill*

        I would love to steal the football themed quilt.

        They still have the AC on and it’s October in the upper midwest.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Quilting, true-crime aficionado self here. I’ve actually used the quilting part tangentially (handling vintage textiles) but I’m really careful about the true-crime part because a) yeah, it’s creepy and b) you never know who had a loved on murdered or something. I don’t want them to think I’m being glib about it.

    3. peggy*

      “bring your whole self to work” doesn’t mean bring your hobbies or your personality. It means bring your Blackness, bring your queerness, bring your neurodiversity, bring your intersectional feminism, whatever it is. I work for a massive corporation that every single person here is familiar with and statistically speaking, I’m certain many of you are customers. We have employee resource groups (previously called D&I) that serve as a collective voice around shared issues or concerns specific to particular communities – like LGBTQ employees or Latinx or Black employees. These groups provide real opportunities for recruitment, retention, development, for people in all populations – including those who are typically missing from executive leadership roles like Black women for example. This is not about gathering the Black employees and having them self-lead a group so they feel more accepted at work… it’s about the company actually putting a TON of money and resources into leveling the playing field in areas where many corporations have never bothered to do. Not because we “should” but because it’s part of the core of what our company stands for and we work towards it every day.

      It’s definitely not about quilting or liking kittens or being into submissive sex stuff. It’s about me coming to work every day knowing that my company supports who I am as a queer woman and shows me that in a multitude of ways that are concrete and valuable to me.

      1. Web Crawler*

        That you for this. I don’t know what I would’ve done without the LGBT+ resource group. I don’t personally know anyone else at my company who’s transitioned, and having a place to get answers has been lifesaving.

        And knowing that I can use the group in the future makes it easier for me to take queer-related risks, like listing my pronouns. Because I know if I face ignorance, that somebody will have my back.

        1. peggy*

          I’m glad you had support at work.

          When I started a family and needed help navigating very complex fertility benefits that didn’t fit the mold for a same-sex family, my company IMMEDIATELY gave me an advocate who helped me 1-1 to get every single benefit owed to me. (United Healthcare btw, total crap. They denied my fertility coverage because lesbians aren’t infertile, and my lack of access to sperm was a choice and not a medical issue therefore my IVF should be out of pocket. My company acted so fast that Uniteds’ heads spun and boom, a week later we had a completely new benefits system that explained benefits for LGBTQ people and provided 1-1 advocacy navigating the healthcare system so no one would ever have to deal with an ignorant, offensive agent with a rubber “denied” stamp like I did.) I also had a slack channel with several hundred LGBTQ colleagues supporting me and offering to help me if I didn’t have the mental energy to deal with it.

          We’ve started adding our pronouns to our corporate profiles and email signatures, globally. My cis het white male middle aged boss, a VP, led the charge for us by saying “I’ve recently learned how important it is to normalize sharing pronouns, here’s why! I urge you to do this too.”

          We’re working on changing our internal systems and our external customer facing app/site so transitioning colleagues/customers don’t have to suffer trying to justify name and pronoun changes.

          There ARE good workplaces out there who are working hard and devoting resources to doing the right thing. I feel very lucky to work at one of them!

          1. Web Crawler*

            Agree with you that United Healthcare is crap. They cover transition costs, for which I’m thankful, but it took hours of being transferred around on the phone before somebody could give me an answer.

            I’m glad you have support too- that sucks.

        2. trans and tired*

          I’m glad you were able to get the support you needed. Coming out, especially when you don’t know anyone else who is out, is tough.

          At the same time, the thought of Talking About My Gender Experience at work makes my skin crawl. I have the relative luxury of having transitioned years ago, so I don’t have to talk about it, but that does also mean that someone in your position wouldn’t know that they could come to me for help. I am openly bi at work, so people do come to me from time to time for general LBGT+ related stuff, but never anything so specific.

          It really illustrates the need for acceptance to happen at the institutional level. I shouldn’t have to take a huge risk with my career and livelihood in order for you to be able to get the support that you need and deserve.

      2. Littorally*

        This is really well said, and I’d like to see Alison do a followup highlighting your and Cyndy W’s comment above to get into what “bring your whole self to work” and good D&I support actually look like.

  9. Elenia35*

    This is actually something that’s been irking me of late. My company started a diversity and inclusion task force. Great. But I KNOW I am being sideeyed to join. Yeah, I am not white. But I don’t want to. At work I don’t want to be recognized as being a different race. Sure, I am of both and do things of both cultures – in my spare time. In my work time I would just like to blend culturally and stand out on important work issues. They also asked the only other non-white person to join. All it does it “other” us. It’s MY choice if I want to join.
    I hope that makes sense!

    1. JD*

      It absolutely makes sense. I was a poster child for diversity at my last job, and I’ve since gained a certain distaste for the entire showing. I know the point of training/table-talk/whatever keyword is to show that they’re trying, but come on. The burden should fall on those in power, not the marginalized. I’m already a rare enough sight in my field without having to field non-job related questions that are beyond my pay grade.
      Additionally… I’m not out at work and have zero plans to be so. I’m biracial (both sides not-white with very distinct cultural experiences) but have zero desire to discuss how not being an obviously not-white person has made my life more difficult at work. Maybe when I’m retired and no longer give a damn.

    2. kt*

      Yes, this makes a lot of sense. In my professional life, I actually finally left one environment when I felt like I went from being ignored in a mildly discriminatory way to being singled out “in a good way” in that discriminatory way — being asked to take on tasks that involved conflict with senior leadership from a low-status, insecure position (like I was on a yearly contract and the people I’d be in conflict with were all in permanent positions), in large part because of my physical characteristics rather than my training. I know the people involved thought they were doing good things: they thought, hey, we have a problem, let’s put someone from that group in charge of solving the problem.

      But I want to be seen as a *person*, not a member of a problem-group. We’re not interchangeable and we do have different priorities. And I did not like being singled out for my physical characteristics and having my actual work sidelined and underpaid. So I left.

    3. 3DogNight*

      Seconded! I couldn’t put my finger on why I didn’t want to join one of these groups, and another co-worker explained it perfectly. Once you’re in that group, you take on the responsibility for training everyone around you, all the time. It’s exhausting, and it puts the onus on the person doing the training to shoehorn in change, rather than on everyone else to make changes. I don’t want that kind of responsibility, I just want my paycheck.
      Plus, groups are made of people, and those people want to meet and talk, a lot!

    4. Junior Dev*

      I’m a queer white woman and I just unsubscribed myself from all the “diversity and inclusion” channels and events because it was taking up a lot of my time and I was continually frustrated with how the company would pay lip service but never make material changes (e.g. refusing to discuss the impact our software has on the wider world, not willing to change hiring practices aside from a few internships over the summer). I spend a LOT of my free time on volunteering and activism and I realized it was sucking up valuable energy for me to be worrying about those things in a workplace that fundamentally isn’t gonna change.

    5. peggy*

      If you work for a small company, this can be really hard. It’s unfortunate that the powers that be don’t see that it’s inappropriate to single out people of color and ask them to represent people of color. Asking for that kind of labor is offensive.

      It does get easier when you work for a large company that actually works hard at doing it right. I’m on a lifelong journey to be as anti-racist as I can possibly be, having recognized my privilege and examined my ignorance of true systemic racism (and the realization that being “not a racist” does not make you “anti-racist”). I’m an ally member of the group at work that serves to promote cultural awareness, career recruitment/retention/development, and to amplify Black voices. I’m not Black – we have 3 tiers of membership: a member of the specific community who wants to play an active role in the committee, a member of the community who doesn’t want to lead/organize but wants to participate, and an ally who is committed to serving the group by amplifying the voices of our colleagues who belong to the group and to sharing the emotional/mental labor required to create and sustain an actively anti-racist working environment.

      Other people should be able to put in the work so that you are safe and accepted and can thrive at work, you should not be expected to shoulder that work yourself.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Other people should be able to put in the work so that you are safe and accepted and can thrive at work, you should not be expected to shoulder that work yourself.


    6. esra*

      Ugh, we’re going through this at my workplace. They’re doing a number of DEI initiatives, and the one they did for Pride included a video about ‘what Pride means to you’. No one wanted to participate for what I feel like are obvious reasons, but HR kept pushing it. So eventually they got like, one queer person and a bunch of straight allies to talk about what Pride means to them. It was… not good.

      Anyway, they asked for feedback after and the consensus was like, yes run your Pride initiatives by queer people at work, but also don’t expect us to be the queer face of the company for HR promo pieces.

  10. Voodoo Priestess*

    I think this is a management fad that has good intentions, but like so many things, can go horribly, horribly wrong.

    For me, bringing my “whole self” to work means working in a place where the work and culture are in line with my values. It does NOT mean brining all of my political beliefs, quirky hobbies, etc, into the office. For a lot of people, they can’t do this due to a toxic work environment or a soul-sucking job but a need to pay the bills. Or like Alison said, they are in a minority identification that could harm them if it became public. Honestly, I think we should all strive to work where we feel valued, empowered, and fulfilled. But recognize that we can’t always have that and that’s OK, too. Sometimes survival is more important than authenticity.

    I can’t wait to read the discussion on this.

  11. Guacamole Bob*

    There’s a valuable concept in this phrase, but it’s poorly expressed. For example, in my work I rarely bring up what my own personal experience as a woman using our service is (and in our industry the gender of users does affect their experience), but couch things in terms of survey results or industry research on the impact of gender. Finding ways to make sure that people can apply their own lived experience to their work and that it will be accepted is important. But the company has to do the work of creating a culture where that is welcome, not just tell individuals it’s their job.

  12. NW Mossy*

    At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I want to smack this phrase with a copy of Erving Goffman’s “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.”

    Goffman’s premise (which has become a classic in sociology) is that theater is a really useful framework to understand how humans interact with each other. We all have different personas that we put on and take off like costumes, depending on the circumstances and the messages we wan to convey.

    I first encountered this book 20 years ago in college, and it’s stuck with me because it’s the first “serious” thing that I can remember reading that openly acknowledged that people pretending and performing is not only normal, but a key part of how humans relate to each other. That malleability is so deep in us in people that it’d be highly unusual to meet someone who has a single persona that never changes, regardless of who they’re with or where they are.

    Let us have our work personas. Our goals at work are different than our goals elsewhere in life, and we’re not weird for tuning our behavior to that difference.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Here’s a fist bump for sociologists! As an aside (a controversial one), recognizing that Goffman’s impression management and all the associated stuff from social psych are well-known phenomena makes me really confused by the ways that people sometimes talk about “masking” as though it’s unique to neurodivergent folk. I get that autism makes the mechanics of this a bit different, but impression management is something that everyone does and has to do to some extent. No one is all of themselves anywhere, and it seems like it’s only recently that anyone has tried to hold that up as a goal.

      1. Tau*

        Not to get too sidetracked, but… first time I’ve run across “masking” but I’m autistic and can guess what it means and… no, the work I put in to appear more neurotypical in social situations feels completely different from the sort of persona adjustment we’re talking about here (which I do do too) to the point where the two aren’t comparable.

        Masking is a lot less flexible, it consumes a hell of a lot more energy, and it affects very different parts of my behaviour. It’s also completely independent of personas – I mask always, and then I’m work-me or home-me or family-me or whoever on top of that. The closest I can think to describe this is that for persona management I adjust what sort of emotions and traits I’m expressing, but for faking NT I’m trying to adjust (among others) what the expression of X emotion or trait looks like down to very low-level body language details that are hellishly exhausting to try to micromanage like that.

        I’m not sure that made sense – this is hard to describe – and I don’t want to pull us off-topic. Just… be aware that for this particular autistic person this comparison is inaccurate and will not help you understand why “masking” is a problem.

  13. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Is that what people are trying to say with that?

    I read it as “bring 100% of your energy, attention, and skills to work and leave nothing for the other 128 hours/week of your life”.

    Either way, it’s bad.

    1. Researcher*

      This was my initial thought as well.
      Frankly, I am bringing too much of my work-self “home” with me after 5 pm these days.
      The boundaries are becoming increasingly more blurry.

      Yep, I agree, it’s bad either way.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, I was coming here to say that. I read it as “When you walk in the office, there is no other world. You don’t have a family, you don’t have commitments, all there is is work. You bring your whole self in, and you aren’t anything else.”

      1. peggy*

        Yikes. I see how you could read it this way if you’ve had bad experiences at work.

        I read it as, “if you’re a parent of small children and your life is circling the drain, don’t feel like you have to hide who you are at work… ask for help, rely on your team, take time for yourself, balance your work with your home life.” That’s truly how it is at my office. When I’m overwhelmed at home and life is really hard, I feel safe telling my team and managers that I need to step back a bit and get some help because I can’t juggle everything. My whole self is a valued employee who is also the mother of 2 small children, and bringing my whole self to work means sometimes work is not my #1 priority.

      2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Yeah, I’ve only ever seen this phrase in job ads, and that’s always the way it reads to me. It never would occur to me to mean what it apparently does… Which really seems like an additional fundamental problem.

    3. 867-5309*

      I’ve done culture and hr comms initiatives at several companies and this phrasing, “Bring your whole self to work” started in response to D&I initiatives. It’s ridiculous no matter how you slice it. (I am not a person of color.)

      I always said in response, so my pj’s and occasionally throwing things is okay, because that is my “whole self?”

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Same. I initially thought of the “give 110%” mentality.

      But I’m sure if you ask them, the HR might respond, “why not both?”

  14. Web Crawler*

    It would be nice to bring more of myself to work. I wish I didn’t have to hide my poly queer life from people and mention my SOs like my peers talk about theirs. I understand that they don’t mean my *whole* self. I’m not under the delusion that I should bring up sex, drugs, and politics at work.

    But it sure would be nice if more of me was accepted.

    1. Alexandra Lynch*

      Yeah, my V shaped poly (I’m the hinge) passes in society as Fiance, Me, and My Sister Who Lives With Us.

      But it’s not true, and that bugs all of us.

  15. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The Obama administration prided itself and family-friendly workplace policies.

    Then the women of the Obama administration quickly learned that when they were away doing childcare duties on nights and weekends, then male staffers were quietly undermining the female staffers with real meetings and policy decisions done during those off hours. (Same thing happened to me when I worked on Capitol Hill.)

    When they brought these and related concerns to Obama’s attention, things changed for the better.

    But bringing your whole self to work doesn’t make any sense unless your workplace really advocates for your whole self to be there.

    1. annoyed*

      Oh wow. I knew about the “crediting women’s ideas in meetings” thing but not about this. Good for Obama at least

    2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      I went to learn more about it after reading your comment, and the Washington Post article that came up was utterly, utterly depressing. How were conditions for female aides that bad in the Obama white house, which has to have been one of if not the best administrations for women to have worked for? Gods, we have so far to go.

  16. AnotherAlison*

    This is relevant to something I brought up at work recently. My company was one of the sponsors for a major local women’s org conference. One of the keynotes focused on this topic of inclusion, and one of the bullet points was for leaders to “go first” and bring their whole selves to work.

    I gave my immediate (male) manager a download of this conference later, and my thought on that was, great, that works if you’re talking about a diverse management team. When the exec management is homogeneous, how is that supposed to make me comfortable? Great, I’m so happy that Steve was comfortable to share his authentic love for football and hunting or what? I bring quite a bit of my “whole self” to work as a rare female in middle management leadership, and I try to crack open the door for people to be comfortable at least bringing the curated version of their whole self to work.

    Anyway, bottom line. . .it’s a nice idea, but I’m not sure about the practice, either.

    1. Web Crawler*

      I’m with you on “nice idea, questionable practice”. My workplace has a “For Fun” channel on Slack where folks can post what they do on the weekends. It’s all impressive male-coded hobbies like building porches, triathlons, outdoorsy travel, with the occasional grill picture or sports talk. They love it, but I feel so much more out of place than I used to.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Even if you are a female who enjoys those things, there is a double standard. It’s kind of like parenting. The female employees are dinged for time away with their kids, but Steve is a hero for that half-day spent with his sick kid. Female outdoorspersons are “trying to be tough” and “fit in with the guys” and that’s no good, but baking or crafting isn’t something leaders do, either.

        I’m doing triathlon training, and it takes so much of my personal time that I don’t bring it up.

        1. Web Crawler*

          Definitely. I didn’t bother to specify gender, but it’s 95% men posting the things. But the workforce is also mostly middle-aged white male, so that’s just a consequence of the culture created by homogenous demographics.

  17. Goldenrod*

    Yeah, I totally agree with this! And I do work in HR!

    I love all the diversity initiatives, but I dislike that phrase too, for those same reasons. I also hate “this is a safe space.” Work most certainly is not! You want to be some authentic version of your professional self. But no, you can’t be your whole authentic self. Especially if your workplace is toxic (which mine is).

    I think a better way to encourage people to talk about some of these issues is to say “This is not a safe space – I can’t guarantee that. But it’s worth taking the risk to talk about some of these issues, while acknowledging that I can’t control how what I say will land on someone else. I can only try my best to be respectful.”

    1. Web Crawler*

      Yes. The “this is a safe space” at work feels like so much gaslighting. It feels like it’s not only unsafe, they refuse to admit that it’s unsafe so it’s my own problem if I see work as too risky to open up in.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        It reminds me of some pre-sex-ed class we had in elementary school.

        “Anything you say in this class is private, and no one will talk about it outside of class.”

        Except that’s not true when a) everyone in the room is 8 or 9 years old and b) the teacher is a mandatory reporter and is required to report certain things.

        I knew we were being lied to straight out.

    2. Persephone Underground*

      I think the idea that management should work hard to make it as safe a space as possible is a good one. The idea that they can just declare it one is ridiculous though. The difference that’s coming up here again and again is that the responsibility for change and work towards it has to be placed at the top, otherwise these initiatives are meaningless or actively harmful.

  18. The Prettiest Curse*

    As a British person living in the US, I can’t bring my whole self to work because then Americans would have no idea what I was talking about! In work mode, I use American spelling and expressions (and do my best to dial back the sarcasm), in non-work mode, I don’t.
    I take the “whole self” idea to mean “be comfortable being who you are, within limits of professional behaviour.”

  19. I edit everything*

    Once again, I’m reminded of why I don’t want to go back to being an employee. If my workplace asked for my “whole self,” and wanted me to be “vulnerable,” I’d probably just shut down further. This is not a romantic relationship. I do not want to be this intimate with my workplace, boss, or colleagues.

  20. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I prefer a variation on that catch phrase that I heard somewhere: “your *best* self .”
    As I typed that it started sounding really familiar so I asked Uncle Google… and yes, I read it *here*, on a few spot-checks it’s from the commentariat at least.

  21. Anne Chase*

    My low paying, low appreciation lousy job doesn’t deserve my whole self. They’re not paying for it and they haven’t earned it. They get, like, 10% of my whole self and it makes me mad to think that anyone would expect more.

  22. Red5*

    I always hated this phrase because it seems to be used by employers who have no boundaries. You know the ones. “We’re like faaaaaammmilyyyyyyy.” I do not want to bring my whole self to work. I will bring my professional self to work who produces what you need in exchange for what you pay. During that time, you get my (mostly) undivided attention and my (absolute) best effort. But you don’t get the rest of my self or the rest of my life. That part is mine.

  23. A Tired Queer*

    I was just thinking of this topic this week, because the line “employees should be able to bring their whole selves to work” featured in our anti-discrimination training videos. They weren’t bad videos or anything! And the context was definitely “here is how not to be an ass so that your coworkers all feel safe and comfortable”. But it irked me as a phrase because maybe I think my job doesn’t deserve my whole self? Maybe I only want to bring the side of me that is cheerful and optimistic and hardworking. Maybe they don’t deserve my sweatpants-wearing, sailor-swearing, can’t-sit-in-a-chairing, grump-and-glaring ass! I still want them to call me the right dang pronouns, but they can do that without seeing all the grubby shit under my polished workplace veneer.

    1. Quill*

      If my work wanted any portion of my brain not deciated to making spreadsheets and documents go around, they could certainly hire me instead of keeping me permanently on contract with shitty insurance.

      Even then, they’re not getting access to any parts of me that people have used against me in the past.

      1. A Tired Queer*

        For real! This this this! My company tries to make like contract workers are all part of the family… but they don’t get insurance, they don’t get vacation, they don’t get paid sick days, and some of them have been here for over a year and still don’t have the system access that the full time employees have. If my company wants more of them, it’s gonna need to step up.

        1. Quill*

          I’m in year 2 and still getting people going “can’t you just order that and then get it reimbursed” and the six feet of distance is not enough to keep them from seeing me roll my eyes about how THAT works for contractors.

          Also all my overseas colleagues keep greeting me on the phone with “Is california still on fire? Have they hired you yet?”

          Yes, No, welcome to america…

  24. Not out but trying in Academia*

    Actually I could use some help related to this. So I don’t go by my first name, and have been trying to get HR to update my email to reflect my actual name. I’ve been here 5 months, and started emailing them more diligently 3 weeks ago, but communication has just… stopped.

    Now HR says I need to talk to IT, and IT says they need to talk to HR, and so I’ve emailed HR to ask them to let me know the that someone, anyone, is working on this but I haven’t heard anything back. I emailed them a few days ago, and then again today, and still no response. I finally reached out to our LGBTQ person at work, but I just don’t know.

    Am I being too pushy? Is 5 emails with no response, each email sent a few days apart over 3 weeks, too much? I’ve finally been emailing my attempts to contact a human to random HR emails, is that the wrong approach? I really, really need this fixed though.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’d say kick it up the chain and ask your boss to throw their weight around and see if they can get it done.

      One of the more frustrating aspects of my work life is that I sometimes have to CC my boss on emails to get other departments to do their jobs. It’s annoying AF though my boss is okay with it.

      1. Not out but trying in Academia*

        I really should. I had hoped to avoid mentioning this, because I really hate talking about why this is important to me, but it’s been 5 months…

        1. Nesprin*

          Yup, dept chairs are there for this sort of thing- one phone call from the higher ups >>10 calls from me. Extra credit for calls from your dept chair to the VP of HR or other high level person.

          Another common tactic (in the before times at least)- show up in someone’s office and then wait till they do the thing.

    2. Alice*

      I would ask my boss to raise it with HR and IT at a higher level. Not with the energy “find someone and punish him!” but with the energy “clearly what I’m doing isn’t working, so let’s try to unplug this log jam.”

      1. Not out but trying in Academia*

        Everyone at HR has been very nice… They just don’t do anything and have stopped responding to emails. One day someone from HR called me about something covid, and when I started crying because he deadnamed me and it was like the fifth time that day he offered to help, but I haven’t heard back from him either…

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Someone deadnaming you is not ‘nice’. It is unkind, and HR should know better. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Is there someone there who has your back?

          1. Not out but trying in Academia*

            Well that’s just it, all the software and email systems are wrong so I have to have a conversation with everyone about how they’re deadnaming me, and I teach ~750 students and get emails constantly.

            But not really, I’m both new and everyone else is remote.

            1. jojo*

              At my job they have to delete your name and rebuild you. That is IT, not HR. But HR has to give the order.

  25. Pennalynn Lott*

    As soon as I realized that my sense of humor wasn’t shared by my co-workers (like joking when my business cards arrived that “Now I’m a real boy!” which no one thought was funny because I’m a woman) and that a single, tiny (4″x4″) Jakub Rozalski art print in a plexiglass cube under my monitor had people from other departments coming by trying to see it [it’s a babushka waving her cane at a scared furry demon in a field with cows and a cat] and asking me if it signified anything (??) or what it’s importance to me was (“Um, it’s a demon afraid of an old woman and her cat? I like cats and it’s…amusing?”), I decided to leave my “whole self” at home. I quit joking about anything and swapped out the Rozalski print for a nature-scape desk calendar. Yawn.

    If that tiny bit of deviation from the norm set boats rocking, I can’t imagine that any LGBTQI or non-white people feel comfortable at my company. But, hey, we’ve been required to take two, 15-minute online trainings on unconscious bias so I’m sure everyone will be super-duper welcoming of differences whenever we return to the office. [::eyeroll::]

    1. CatWoman*

      I’m with you, Pennalynn – I have a chocolate owl skull on my desk – it was a gift, and it makes me happy. I just propped the card explaining that it is a replica of an original sculpture next to it if anyone needs to know that badly.

      1. Lilyp*

        Sorry, is that an owl skull made of chocolate or the skull of a chocolate owl? I’m so curious now!

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        Thank you, Black Horse Dancing.

        They “got” the joke, in that it was a reference to Pinnochio, but they didn’t think it was funny because I’m a woman and Pinnochio isn’t. I was like, “But that’s part of the joke.”


    2. OyHiOh*

      Your art print would have made me smile to see it – a tiny touch of work personality. People are SO WEIRD about deviations from the norm! I’m sorry you felt you had to change it out.

      I folded most of my desk organization boxes. Used pretty calendar pages and folded them into origami boxes. My pen holder is an origami vase. The vase and one box (sticky notes) are the only ones actually visible on my desk, though. I’m not positive my boss has noticed, to be honest (we’re the only ones here, everyone else works remote and we work in separate offices across a hall from each other). And I really don’t think he’d care, either. He’s big on results, not appearances.

  26. Miss Muffet*

    this is crazy timing because I’m about to present on this in a team meeting. The graphic is an iceberg with visible diversity things above the water line and things like personality, values, family status below. the comments on this post have helped me clarify my thoughts on how to speak to it. Props to the person mentioning Covering. I’d love any other feedback on what I was planning to say from this smart group (please be nice and productive). For context, this is a group that is across the US and also in India, so the racial aspects apply to the US obvs but I’m also trying to make this relevant to our overseas colleagues.
    >>You don’t need to share these things if you are uncomfortable, and appropriate boundaries are always healthy! But also consider how you may be inadvertently making it hard for other people to feel comfortable sharing these parts of themselves at work.
    What ways might a marginalized person cover evidence of their identity – speech patterns, hairstyles, not mentioning partners. Ex: some people may be perceived as too aggressive for the same behavior that in others are considered normal.
    We want people to feel welcome and included. What are ways we do or can make that possible for everyone? <<

    1. Trotwood*

      I’ve seen this graphic plenty of times and one thing I think is important to emphasize is that people don’t need to feel bad if they’re not sharing those things, and how there are a lot of structural things in an organization that can make it hard for people to share. I have a lot of good reasons not to be very “out” at work, even though the majority of people would be supportive. I do think it’s important for people in the majority to find ways to show their acceptance of people’s “under the iceberg” identities. One thing I always look back on that meant a lot to me was a time a coworker told us a story about how her college best friend had hid from her that he was dating a guy through most of their freshman year. The gist of the story was just how sorry she’d felt that he wasn’t comfortable telling her sooner, and how their friendship had gotten so much closer after he came out to her. I don’t even remember the context in which the story came up, but it certainly made me feel a lot more comfortable with her and able to be myself knowing how personal and important it was to her to be an ally to the LGBT community. I guess the real idea is that hearing that personal story from her meant way more than just having someone show an infographic about how we’re all different.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        thank you! this is really thoughtful, and I like to the focus on how talking about this kind of stuff by her sharing her story was helpful for making you feel accepted. I have often thought about how I am open about my churchgoing, so I am sure that some people assume I do not accept LGBTQ people, which couldn’t be further from the truth, so I try to also find ways of demonstrating my openness like your friend did.

        1. Trotwood*

          I definitely think that’s important–if you’re open about being religious then you need to be extra open about being an ally to the LGBT community. I think a lot of queer people are going to see some who’s talking a lot about religion as someone who it’s just not safe to be open with. I certainly remember a time when I came into a conference room and found a coworker taking his lunch break in there and spending time reading a pocket bible, and I definitely filed that away as “okay, this guy probably isn’t safe to be open with.” Even though his reading the bible didn’t give me any direct evidence of what he thinks about gay people, it just doesn’t feel like a risk that’s worth running.

          One other thought that I first heard summarized by the excellent LGBT+ ally Brian Burke (of hockey’s You Can Play project) was about how a lot of people would tell him that they stayed in the closet not because of how the majority of their friends or family would react, but often because of one parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc., whose reaction they were really worried about. And I think this translates to a work context as well–the majority of people at work are going to be really positive and accepting, but if it’s going to make your life harder with a few bigots, is it worth it to be out? Especially pre-Bostock? Am I going to be seen as the problem if there are people who don’t want to work with me because I’m gay? I think it’s really important for any organization to show through words and through actions that they’re committed to full inclusion of all diverse groups. Otherwise it just seems like empty promises.

          1. Miss Muffet*

            Thank you! Agree 100%! I hope to get some discussion going a bit about what those actions might look like so people can think about this more tangibly.

  27. EngineerMom*

    Our workplace made general acceptance clear without getting into weirdness territory by simply making various volunteer activities available, and supporting mentoring groups that target folks who aren’t necessarily in the majority in our industry. They call them Employee Networks, and they have titles like:

    Asian Leadership & Cultural Network
    Black Business Network
    Flex Network (for employees who don’t work a typical on-site MWF 8-5 type of schedule)
    Hispanic-Latino Network
    PRIDE (LGBTQ & Ally Network)
    Veterans Network
    Women in STEM Network
    Women Leaders network
    Advancing Professionals Network

    Every network’s membership is open to any employee, though each network tends to mostly attract its niche group, of course. But knowing I work for a company that openly supports a PRIDE network, a Women in STEM network, a Black Business network, and a FLEX network makes it pretty clear that homophobic, sexist, or racist remarks are not welcome in the workplace, and diversity is valued, without saying something weird like “Bring your whole self to work!”.

    1. A Tired Queer*

      I think that’s pretty cool! To have an employer openly supporting employee organization like that, that’s great!

  28. attempted ally*

    I’ve heard one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, Dr. Melina Abdullah, speak, and this was a phrase she used. “Bring your whole self” belongs to the Movement for Black Lives. They started organizing as mothers of small children, and what they meant by the phrase was things like, sure, bring a three year old to the demonstration. If you need to cry with grief because of another murder, that’s part of the process. If people with autism need to stim during an organizing meeting, that’s what they need to be there.

    “Bring your whole self” means that everyone can make a contribution, that there’s no such thing as “special” needs or “extra” accommodations.

    If a workplace is going to co-opt this (and Dr. Abdullah is definitely pissed off about it too), what “bring your whole self” *should* mean is plenty of tolerance for kid noise on Zoom calls, being fine with people who stand or sit in weird ways during meetings, more sick leave, more budget for ergonomic tech, more expansive definitions of family for bereavement leave- overall more flexibility. Otherwise, this is just more cultural appropriation that hollows out all the original meaning.

    1. This LW*

      I’m the LW and this is information is very helpful. Thank you! I didn’t know the etymology of the phrase, and would not have put it together based on who in my workplace uses it most often. It’s mostly used by white people in leadership positions whose behavior and attitudes are not particularly inclusive and is not used by people in our HR department, all of whom are Black. This also makes me wonder if the people who use the phrase most often understand where it came from and what it means in that context. With apologies on their behalf to Dr. Abdullah.

  29. HailRobonia*

    “Hailrobonia, why do you have an elf-on-the-shelf sitting on a block of swiss cheese on your desk?

    “Because you told me to bring my holes elf to work!”

  30. Lucette Kensack*

    It’s important to distinguish between being able to bring your whole self to work and being asked to bring your whole self to work. The former is something organizations should strive for; the latter is nonsense.

    I don’t think Alison’s response is especially helpful to this LW.

    First, the headline (which could have come from Alison or the LW, who knows) suggests that the LW is being asked to bring her whole self to work, and I think a lot of commenters are responding to that. But she’s not! Nobody is pressuring her to do anything she’s uncomfortable doing. She just doesn’t like the words being used to describe a workplace goal of being welcoming and inclusive.

    Second, nobody reasonable thinks that setting a goal of ensuring that all employees feel able to “bring their whole selves to work” means that they should feel free to sexually harass their colleagues/sing show tunes in the middle of a cube farm/insist that everyone call them Lord Dr. or whatever. Language is imprecise. Humans understand words within their context anyway. Of course there will be boundary pushers who take advantage; you can’t write a perfect line in an employee handbook that will make every person follow every rule perfectly all of the time.

    So, what the LW should be thinking about is whether the language she objects to is useful or whether it causes harm or confusion. Her personal dislike of the phrase is irrelevant, unless it offers clues to an actual problem with the organization’s goal or confusion about what the language means.

    1. Guacamole Bob*


      I also didn’t find Alison’s response especially helpful (which is very unusual!). There are lots of ways to take the phrase “bring your whole self to work” and be kind of snarky about it or find fault, but there’s a real, serious concern underneath – the way that many marginalized and minority employees have historically felt that they had to leave some parts of themselves at the door, hide aspects of themselves or their lives, stay closeted, talk differently, change their appearance, etc. Criticizing the phrase without offering an alternative way of talking about that concept isn’t really helping anything.

      1. cubone*

        You explained this really well. It’s fine if you don’t like the language of “bring your whole self to work”, or if you feel it neutralizes the concept of diversity and inclusion into something more palatable (which I kind of do).

        I don’t “bring my whole self to work” by describing my chronic pain issue in excruciating detail in a full team meeting, but talking to my boss privately to explain that I have a chronic issue and occasionally have a flare-up that requires 3 days of bed rest and I hope we can put some things in place to minimize its impact on the team…. that makes me feel like I am able to “bring my whole self” to work (by being able to be open about my needs and limitations and how they might affect my work without fear of repercussions or my career growth being limited).

    2. a manager*

      THIS >>>>>> “It’s important to distinguish between being able to bring your whole self to work and being asked to bring your whole self to work. The former is something organizations should strive for; the latter is nonsense.”

    3. lazy intellectual*

      The LW directly asks Alison, “What’s your take on “bring your whole self to work”? Is this the new management wave that I need to get on board with? Or should I keep pushing for a rebrand?”

      Which Alison effectively answers.

    4. Solar*

      I think it causes harm and confusion. In particular, people end up oversharing in a way that is disruptive to the workplace and harmful to their own careers. It’s one thing to be open about a mental health issue and need some accommodations – it’s another to vent about it daily.

      We still need professional standards. Natural hair should not be considered unprofessional. Having a same-sex partner and mentioning them in conversation should not be considered unprofessional. We need to remove bigotry from professional standards. That is different from getting rid of the idea of professionalism entirely.

      1. lazy intellectual*

        This – “We need to remove bigotry from professional standards.”

        This reminds me of the thread a few weeks ago about distinguishing destigmatizing mental health issues and oversharing about mental health. We should destigmatize (so that people aren’t afraid to ask for work accommodations) but not overshare.

        Basically, one allows people to work optimally, and the other disrupts workflow.

      2. Eirene*

        There will always be people who overshare regardless of whether they’ve been asked to bring their whole selves to work. Come on.

  31. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Do you want to hear my cinnamon roll list? Or figure skating SP/FS playlist? Or my last hyperfixation? Or a bunch of in-jokes that only some people will understand? Because that’s what I’d do if I bring my whole self to work.

    1. Jaid*

      Cinnamon roll as in delicious, delicious pastry or the “Too Good for This Sinful Earth” kind?

  32. Bookworm*

    Thank you for writing this letter, OP. My org is striving towards working on its DEIJ initiatives and I appreciate their efforts…but I also haven’t been quite able to articulate to myself exactly what has been bothering me about their approach and why I have not felt comfortable engaging for a variety for reasons. This post and many of the comments have helped. Thanks to everyone else, too.

  33. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    If you ask me to bring my whole self to work, you’d better not complain later that I didn’t “greet someone warmly enough and make them feel welcome” when they interrupted me while I was manually tabulating payroll with a pencil and a calculator and a stack of timecards and two different copies of the staff shift calendar.

  34. RagingADHD*

    I hear some people use this to mean they want people to feel comfortable asking for accommodations they need, or discussing special situations like family illness or life changes that are causing them stress (divorce, caregiving, bad news, etc). In other words, to speak up before they burn out.

    But there sure are better ways of saying it.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Agree. I think it’s just bad wording because it can backfire if taken literally.

  35. Keymaster of Gozer*

    My whole self includes a schizophrenic, depression riddled, suffering in pain 24/7 who was hospitalised this year for a nervous breakdown and who swears, burps and passes gas loudly at home and thinks it’s funny.

    Any hiring managers willing to say they’d take that package on?


  36. a manager*

    As a boss, we’re being bombarded by vendor inquiries to provide diversity programs as though it can be plug-and-play and be meaningful?! I can’t help but to wonder how many companies are buying these ‘programs’ and think they will have an impact / lead to change / re-defining a more inclusive organizational culture? Or worse – that it checks off a “box” on a 2020 HR response to do list and it actually disenfranchises minorities even further with a sham of a diversity program that isn’t actually supported by management and the organizational structure.

    1. Carz*

      There is also no evidence that diversity/anti-oppression programs work the way they’re meant to, and increasing evidence that they’re counterproductive. You can’t change what people think, but you can change what they do. Setting policies at the top (and enforcing them), diversifying recruitment/hiring/leadership seem to make more of a difference than forcing people to explore their feelings in some workshop.

      1. some dude*

        I attended one of these workshops recently and it was a shitshow that had the opposite effect.
        The facilitator was good and had good intentions, but people aren’t going to change their ingrained beliefs because of a workshop. I also don’t know how you tell people “You are super racist, part of a super racist system, and you didn’t really earn much of what you have” without them getting defensive. I enjoyed the book White Fragility, but I kept having that thought reading it – like, how do you expect these folks to really hear your message?

      2. lazy intellectual*

        I’m relieved that I’m not the only person doubting these DEI trainings and initiatives. I’ve always been skeptical of their effectiveness.

  37. cubone*

    Omg, this is so relevant – I have been stewing a letter to Allison for ages about this coworker who is VERY VERY on the “whole self” train but there’s an extra catch. I hope I could jump in on this for advice from the commentariat (and maybe I will yet send it in as it’s own question).

    This colleague is a senior leader and basically adores that empathy/authenticity approach (shes deeply inspired by Brene Brown and Adam Grant – both of whom I enjoy and think have good points!). But it’s … extremely all consuming in her behaviour and leadership style. I’m talking daily slack posts and articles about empathy, “authenticity”, the importance of being ourselves at work, etc. All her “compliments” are framed in this way too (eg. “this approach empowered everyone to contribute as their best selves!“, “I love how you shared your authentic opinion!!”). She even literally has a side hustle blogging on being your whole self (in those exact words!).

    Here’s the TWIST: she is without a doubt the meanest, cruelest, most manipulative person I have ever encountered in my life. I’ve caught her in many, many lies (presenting others ideas as her own, putting her name on others work), and is extremely condescending. I’ve seen her employees (I’m on another team but our work crosses over daily) ask her “when would you like this completed by?” And she will respond with an absolutely frigid death glare and: “is something preventing you from setting deadlines for yourself???” . She opened a meeting by saying “in an effort to be our whole Selves, I thought we should start with a mental health check in one by one”, and when people passed, would again give them a death glare and said: “it’s totally okay, we all have days where we just aren’t comfortable sitting with our feelings and asking for help” (it never happened again but …wtf). She writes emails in ALL CAPS when she’s mad. I could go on for days. Just bizarre, uncomfortable and rude behaviour…..

    ……. all while writing a blog about “being our whole selves” and “feeling the feelings” and “supporting one another in our shared authenticity journeys”.

    I’m not actually sure if I have a question or just need to put this out there to ask if anyone else has seen like, cruel people use this language as a shield? Or is this person just bonkers? I truly feel like I’m losing it, because again, I like some of these concepts (when they’re dialed to the appropriate degree) but my gosh, it is bonkers to see them peddled by someone who is just … mean. Like really, really mean.

    1. Colorado*

      well, you know what they say…actually I don’t know what they say but I tend to find that when people have to shove their truth’s and beliefs down your throat it comes from a very false place. It’s like walk the talk, the true people just do and don’t expect praise or others to notice, the others just talk.

    2. Asenath*

      A lot of people – I’m tempted to say everyone – have certain blind spots about their own behaviour, and don’t always behave in the ways that they claim to admire, but that colleague’s blind spot is far bigger than most. While I haven’t heard that particular language used by someone who doesn’t walk the walk, as they say, I’ve certainly met other people who say all the right things about how people should be treated, and then don’t do it themselves. If you know them well, sometimes you can say privately something like “That really came across as harsh and I’m sure it hurt Jane”, but almost all of the time all you can do is make a mental note about this person’s behaviour and work around it until they go too far and get fired, or learn to behave better.

      1. cubone*

        True – it’s not really that uncommon to have some mismatch between words/actions (I think we can all be a little aspirational in how we describe ourselves, lol). I think, as you put, it’s just the sheer size of her blind spot/scope of the mismatch between her words and actions that is kind of awe-inspiring. I’ve never met anyone who talks so much about their life philosophies, and to then also be so …. not at all reflective of their actions (as the person above said though, perhaps it’s the people who talk the most about it that are just trying to convince themselves/others).

        I guess it’s felt for me like it’s crossed a point where it could reasonably still be a “blind spot” and it almost starts to feel… calculated. Or manipulative. But I can’t really know that, and it doesn’t matter anyways. At the end of the day, she’s just into ‘wholehearted living’, is also mean, and also approaches work in a very calculating way. Human beings: full of complexity. I think just writing this out made me realize that is is something I find very, very grating and detestable, which probably also says a bit about me and what I value (eg. I have more patience for the colleagues who are worse at their jobs ultimately, because at least they don’t belittle people and spend so much time talking about things they never do).

    3. Polly Hedron*

      She doesn’t want anyone else’s whole self. She just wants to be HER whole self, and it isn’t pretty.

    4. Lucy*

      This is actually spot on for someone I worked with. She would say “we need to get people to trust us and talk about their vulnerabilities” and Brene Brown Workshop every project beginning with a new team. I actually had a conversation with her and first I acknowledged that she was in fact coming from good intentions but that this could potentially foray over into HR or just super personal territory because people can perceive that as pressure to disclose to be part of a peer group to be socially accepted into the workplace. And as mentioned for some people “vulnerabilities” are things that have been a liability in the work places in the past. Also, we are not licensed therapists or psychologists so in a really extreme case, if someone were to disclose something to you (A vulnerability) that made them relive a trauma in the moment as part of your well intentioned exercise – that could be potentially harmful for them. Also, I made it super clear that people have no obligation to disclose or share really personal things and shouldn’t be expected to do so to be considered good team players.

  38. Student*

    Maybe it’s just me, but my diversity wants/needs at work revolve around a handful of specific, concrete things. Phrases, slogans, logos, etc. like “bring your whole self to work” may pass by me, but I pay them no attention whatsoever.

    I’m a woman in a male-dominated workforce. The specific things I want are:
    -Assurances that I’m getting payed fairly when compared to my peers for our work
    -People to listen to me in discussions and treat me like a respected professional in my field, without need to put “extra” effort that my equivalent [male] colleagues don’t need to put in to get the same treatment.
    -Little to no crappy treatment by bosses and colleagues. If there’s crappy treatment in the office, I want it to be distributed fairly across the office, and not directed at me for reasons outside of my control (like my gender).

    So, could you please either scrap the slogans, or pick up one that will address a concrete, specific problem people face vis-a-vis disveristy? “Crap in a toilet; not on your perceived-weakest fellow co-worker!” would be a decent start for the focus group to work on.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


      Its irksome to me that the newly minted llama groomers love to crack jokes about “being the llama grooming manager’s secretary”, while at least weekly I have to clarify that no, I’m not his secretary and I have no idea where he is/have access to his calendar/nor should I really be taking message for him, I’m not even in the llama grooming department and I’m a very expensive administrative assistant if that’s what they’re going to use me as. I’m a senior level alpaca farming specialist who happens to sit in the general vicinity of the llama grooming department, in a cube farm.

      I’d also prefer to not have to explain to someone from the donkey companion department posture that he knows better than I do about alpaca farming during meetings. Of note that the donkey companion department does not do that to any other alpaca farming specialist.

      It’d be awesome if I could be myself at work and not the professional version of myself that I’ve had to cultivate. And if I’m struggling like this as a cis white woman? Oof. We need to do better.

  39. Kiwi with laser beams*

    Also, sometimes it’s so blatantly, obviously not true that it’s just laughable. Before the pandemic, Air New Zealand’s recruitment page went on and on about how they let their flight attendants “be themselves” and as someone who’s worked in customer service, I just thought “Does anyone ACTUALLY believe that?!”

  40. Colorado*

    After a long day, I laughed at the title. No disrespect to anyone, but I don’t want your whole self. I want your self that meets the deadlines established, does good, honest work, is pleasant most of the time, and is qualified to perform the job they’re hired to do. Hell, I don’t want to see my friends and family whole self’s, even mine on most days. Keep that between you and you and your consenting surrounding persons bubble.

  41. lazy intellectual*

    I agree the expression sucks. I understand that its intent is people shouldn’t be stigmatized for having marginalized identities/marginalized people shouldn’t feel pressured to hide the parts of themselves more mainstream people can express at work (e.g. LGBTQ people should be allowed to talk about their partners the same way straight people would, without having the hide the fact they’re in a same sex relationship).

    But people should still be the best versions of themselves at work. I feel anxious and irritable once every hour, but no way should I be bringing this part of myself to work.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      I also feel like ‘bring your whole self to work’ sometimes gets looped in with the outlook of ‘we’re all family here!’ and uncomfortably trying to mesh personal life with work life, which we don’t want.

  42. Victoria J*

    I hate that term. I agree with the criticisms here, but I think that’s only part of the problem.

    It’s such a badly thought out phrase that out tends to only be used by people who haven’t thought it through. And people who want to sound inclusive but aren’t actually inclusive enough to be able to clearly say that, or recognise what it actually takes to be inclusive, or recognise the need to see the difference between actually making sure people aren’t excluded from your work place due to i.e. their race, and freeing people to bring in prejudiced views and actions.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first employer I heard it from was the one that large numbers of people experienced as racist, and large numbers of people experienced as treating people with disabilities extremely badly. A place which was not a joy to work at while having mental health problems. The most conformist place I have worked.

    When I see an employer using that phrase I assume they are not good at inclusion.

    But I think it also goes with another problem. Employers who say this also tend to feel entitled to more of you.

    They aren’t actually exclusive but along with the lip service they’ll coopt difference and marginalized identities. There’ll be meetings and focus groups etc. where they will want those people to make everyone else feel better about how inclusive they are. And use personal experience as learning material for people who have never had to have those experiences.

    My current employer has started saying it. They’re actually good on the first front. It’s a mental health charity and I can be open about my experiences with that (the CEO has the same diagnosis I have). They think being good at my job matters more than not being weird. They are never going to make me buy more “feminine” shoes, and while they probably shouldn’t make assumptions about my sexuality (which the previous CEO did in one very awkward conversation) they are pretty inclusive in regards to sexuality and gender identity.

    But I have huge problems with how entitled they feel to more of me than I want to share. Courses and meetings repeatedly have emotional content that makes me feel uncomfortable.

    Then we had absolutely terrible diversity and inclusion training. Which asked us to share marginalized parts of identity in groups (I was in a group with someone from HR!). And when we complained someone actually said that while she understood this caused pain this was necessary for people’s learning.

    I don’t believe that to be true. But if it is – they still have no entitlement to my pain.

    She is very lucky that I don’t bring the punching people in the face part of my personality into work. (Or anywhere, because part of being a person is controlling things like that so I only think it).

    Can we please discuss worst and most inappropriate training sometime ?

  43. Mockingdragon*

    I’m so glad for this thread because I very much learned from it. I’d definitely thought about this phrase for smaller culture things like the place it was ok to have a Little Mermaid poster on my wall vs the place that told me to take it down. Learning about the origins makes me embarrassed for myself so I won’t use it on frivolous stuff next time.

    There’s probably a decent distinction to make between office cultures where Pop figurines and sports posters in your cube are okay and cultures where they’re considered unprofessional, but I don’t know what I’d call it now that I know it’s not ‘your whole/authentic self’.

  44. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    But what if your whole self has cheap rolls? You can’t bring those to work!

  45. some dude*

    I’m a white guy, and this phrase irritates me because it’s not like I am bringing my whole self to work – I bring my work self to work, and I muffle the less professional aspects of my identity. Certainly the professional world is more geared towards white people and white cultural mores, but “whiteness” and “professionalism” are not the same thing. Many white people are also code-switching to some degree, although the degree of translation is much less if you are a white dude in a white-led organization than if you are a member of a less represented group. My point isn’t that us white dudes have it super hard too, but that this is a non-native environment to many of us as well.

    Also, like some other elements of DEI that I’ve come across in relation to “professionalism,” it sometimes seems to imply that people from less represented groups are incapable of acting professionally and THAT is why they haven’t been successful in the workplace, and not, like, literally decades/centuries of discrimination at the personal and system level.

  46. OyHiOh*

    I am thankful, at the end of a long day involving a mind-numbingly long board meeting and then trying to capture the minutes before I forgot who said what, for taking the time to read this thread. Understanding what the phrase was intended to capture (the person who cited Dr Mellina Abdullah, and the other person who cited Kenji Yoshino, and Cyndy W for the links about white professional norms, thank you) is helping me so much in putting a finger on why certain GREAT IDEAS!!!!! I hear about through friends and family feel like a wrongness, without having been able to articulate *why* they feel wrong.

  47. fhgwhgads*

    My experience with this phrase is a bit different. I’ve not personally heard the “bring your whole self” thing expressed as something employees should do or need to do. Rather I’ve seen it stated as part of the goal for the organization’s DEAI efforts. So it’s more like if the workplace environment is one in which you’d feel like you couldn’t safely mention you are a wife with a wife or husband with a husband in casual conversation, or couldn’t wear visible tzitzit, or might be encouraged to go by “Roger” instead of “Rajesh”, or couldn’t casually state “actually my pronouns are they/them” or or or or etc. then they as a company have failed. It was not intended to mean break down your very reasonable boundaries or “be vulnerable”. It was used in the context of “if you feel you need to hide, we’re doing it wrong”.

    1. Persephone Underground*

      It sounds like this is the proper, intended meaning, but like everything it’s possible for companies who are trying to just check a box or cover their rears to misuse it and completely miss the point.

  48. Workerbee*

    In relation to the threads on diversity initiatives—my org recently started thinking about diversity & inclusion. They assigned a committee—of aged white men—to read books about it. When asked why weren’t any of the women included (not that their premise was a good one), there was a hell of a lot of sidestepping with no real answer.

    1. Workerbee*

      I should add that I realize for things to change, we need the people in power to agree and do it—but starting off with an exclusive book club just doesn’t seem like the best decision.

  49. Kh*

    As a marginalized person, bigots and racists should absolutely bring their whole selves to work so that they can be fired. People here seems to think that bringing your whole self to work is to benefit straight white cis-people—it’s not.

    1. Amazed*

      If someone’s actually able to do as Allison is talking about here and not bring that part of themselves to work, I don’t think it belongs anywhere near the category of the unrepentant loud bigot that absolutely needs to go. This idea that the only acceptable interaction is ‘none’ is getting out of hand, and it’s leading to the conclusion that showing or telling someone why they should get rid of those ideas – directly fighting those ideas – is nonetheless complicit in those same ideas. I can’t condemn that strongly enough, and I’m glad to see that at least Allison is fighting back against it.

  50. c_g2*

    Saw a comment thread above similar to what I think of this as a queer neurodivergent white woman. I think this is important if it means allowing people to literally exist. As in not punishing POC for their natural hair/vernacular; letting queer people discuss their partner(s), health insurance that supports transitioning; not policing women’s bodies and tones differently from men (makeup for instance).
    I am an intensely private individual. So what bringing my whole self to work looks like is being allowed to exist as these things without being required to be the cishet person’s first Educator or the Face of Diversity for the company. Without having to discuss my personal life — beyond details such as “yes I have a wife” if I ever get married. Too often people think being a minority is available for discussion. For instance, a coworker asked me “what do I think about X members in ___ part of the queer community?” which is a really big issue. Or my boss sprang a “So I heard you came out!” when I had never discussed my personal life to them ever.

  51. Sarah*

    I also hate this because very few organizations have actually reached the point where you can even do this in the way it is intended. For example, my workplace tries to be very inclusive but is not particularly good as far as disability. Mental illness has a huge stigma in general. Physical disabilities that mean you may not be able to return to the office even after the virus are also not exactly something I feel totally comfortable discussing. Frankly, I don’t think most people would feel very comfortable with me talking about all the times my shoulders subluxed that day despite the fact that this actually could affect my focus at work. Considering they manager to get captions for one piece of an event but not another today, I think it is fair to say many people can’t bring their full self to work. And when people in charge talk about this, sometimes it rubs me the wrong way. In a way I wish we would talk more about just plain discrimination (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.).

  52. Dancing Otter*

    This discussion has been very interesting to me. When I hear a company wants employees to bring their whole selves to work, my interpretation has been more on the line of: “Give us your whole life.” Don’t know whether that’s cynicism or the voice of experience.

  53. Claire*

    I think most of these comments are missing the forest for the trees, to be honest. The context of where this phrase is generally used- initiatives around equity and inclusion- gives it more nuance. It’s not meant to imply “bring discussions of your sex life to work,” just as saying you want a culture “where everyone feels included” isn’t meant to imply that racists should feel included. It’s about your trans colleague who feels they can’t talk about their transition; your gay colleague who is afraid to mention their partner; your Black colleague who feels they have to constantly code switch to do well at work. It’s about not having to hide part of yourself that is typically marginalized in the workplace. And the idea isn’t that you MUST bring your whole self to work; it’s that you CAN bring your whole self.

  54. Jennifer Juniper*

    It is Newspeak, 2020 Corporate American edition.

    It really means, “Be enthusiastic and passionate about our mission at all times. Smile enthusiastically and agree wholeheartedly with whatever your manager and the other higher-ups say. Do everything asked of you without complaint or expectation of reward. Cut off any part of yourself that doesn’t fit our mission. And kindly clean the blood out of the trash can under your desk after you’re done amputating yourself.”

  55. Tidewater 4-1009*

    When I was young I learned by experience not to bring my whole self to work.
    If I talked about something fun, someone around would get jealous and start trying to hurt me.
    This went double, triple for dating.
    Mind you, it’s not that my life was so great. It wasn’t! It’s that jealous people *assumed* it was.
    I also learned not to bring my flaky distracted aspects or my self-conciousness and low self-esteem to work.
    And most especially, not crushes on coworkers.
    Guess how I learned all this?

  56. Different Take*

    I always viewed the whole self idea differently. My take is that when I come to work, I don’t automatically turn off all of the other things that are going on in my life. I’m not a robot. If I have a sick child, I’ll probably be distracted. Before engaging at work, ask your colleague “How are you?” or “Is this still a good time to you?” And don’t ask these like a throw away questions.

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