With less separation between mainframers’ work and personal lives, enterprises across the industry are looking to engage with workers to ensure they can bring their authentic selves to the workplace and be comfortable. As part of the “Making Our Strong Community Stronger” initiative, IBM, Broadcom, Rocket Software, TechChannel and The Linux Foundation hosted the next webinar in the series, "Unmasking Our ‘Whole Self’: Can We Create Inclusive, Psychologically Safe Spaces in the Workplace?,” which was moderated by Dr. Gloria Chance, president and chief executive officer of The Mousai Group.
The panelists — Allyson B. Cook, program lead for customer engagement programs at Broadcom, Earl Dixon, Jr., principal client services and technology leader for the Mainframe Vitality Program at Broadcom, Kevin Norlin, chief revenue officer at Rocket Software, and Tina Tarquinio, product management director for IBM Z at IBM discuss how enterprises can create psychologically safe spaces at work for all employees.
Dr. Chance says that empowering employees to bring their true selves to work makes room for not only stronger leaders, but also better relationships and greater innovation. Enterprises today continue to attract diverse talent, and to keep that talent, firms need to create an environment where employees feel safe enough to be their whole selves, she explains.
Do You Feel Comfortable Sharing Your Authentic Self at Work?
Earl Dixon, Jr., says that bringing your whole self to work means bringing your culture, your upbringing, your values, and more to work, but he finds that he's unable to do that and continues to wear a "mask" at work. Dixon explains that he continues to shield some of his authentic self because as an employee, you want to be judged for your work, not your background. He also notes that if he gets a little loud in a meeting, his reaction may be viewed as an "angry Black man" rather than as someone who is having a bad day.
Kevin Norlin adds that bringing your whole self to work also entails having conversations with co-workers and partners and making genuine connections. He explains that since working from home, he's made a point of showing his team members that life happens — whether that's pets or kids — and that it is okay to be yourself and not always have to "put on a show." Norlin does say that it will require an environment where workers feel safe to share their authentic selves.
Tina Tarquinio points out that as a leader before the pandemic she didn't necessarily have to share where she was going if she had to leave early, but since the pandemic, she's shared how she had to leave to take her kids to soccer games or pick them up at school. She adds that by doing this, she shows her team that they, too, can share their life experiences at work without fear.
Allyson Cook says that she has not felt comfortable in her 20-year information technology career to bring her authentic self to work. She expresses that there is trepidation about sharing her whole self, especially when she is one of the few — whether that is one of the few working mothers in the group or the only Black woman. Cook adds that her parents instilled in her that "excellence" is all that matters because growing up in a rural, segregated town made it difficult to be yourself. She points out even in a situation in which she thought she would find the support she needed, she did not receive it. When her husband's military station was shifted overseas, she sought approval to move with him, but unlike previous moves that were approved, her new team leader asked, "Who do you think you are?" Cook adds that while she was able to get her move approved, the situation made it clear to her that when she's facing an emotional choice, she needs to protect herself.
Role of Leaders in Creating Safe Spaces
Tarquinio advises leaders to have those uncomfortable conversations to uncover the obstacles team members face or fear regarding their authentic selves. Sometimes, she says, leaders may not know where those conversations may lead, but it is important to have them if the company wants to foster and maintain inclusion among its workforce. Norlin notes that many employees wear "masks" at work until they are very comfortable, and this is especially true in unfamiliar territory or intimidating situations. He adds, however, that we need to understand that we can only control our own reactions and not what others think and say about us.
Dr. Chance explains that we need to lean into the uncomfortable, especially as leaders who are tasked with making strategic decisions that impact team members and the business. Creating a psychologically safe space at work requires empathy and understanding, and in these spaces, employees can feel safer having difficult conversations at work.
Norlin says that leaders can take the initiative to stand up for others in the workplace, particularly those who feel as if they are on the margins or are unable to speak for themselves. Tarquinio also explains that, as a leader, it is important for her to demonstrate that even if she's unfamiliar with someone's experiences that she's open to learning from them to help not only her team members but also make herself a better leader. Cook agrees that leaders need to look at those uncomfortable situations, like the death of George Floyd, and not turn away. It is important for leaders to understand what their team members are experiencing and feeling, she emphasizes.
Unmasking the Mainframe Workforce
Dr. Chance outlines how leaders can begin to create psychologically safe spaces at work. Leaders, she contends, should ask questions and be curious and open to learning and adapt. Tarquinio and Norlin agree that openness about yourself as a leader and sharing your own stories can help others do the same. Cook adds that leaders need to recognize that employees, especially during the pandemic and working remotely, face emotional tolls outside of work that may not only impact performance, but also their wellbeing. She explains that if leaders openly acknowledge these issues, employees will feel more comfortable about sharing their anxieties. This can inform employers on how to help mainframers cope better with the stress. Cook notes that it could be something as simple as attending meetings with their video off. Dixon adds that leaders also need to listen to and value other points of view without judgment.
Dr. Chance says that leaders who make the space for diverse employees and open up the culture to be more inclusive also need to make space for acknowledging and addressing stress. Providing employees with the space to talk about their struggles and emotional concerns enables workers to reset and regain some of their productivity. She adds that building team values also fosters psychologically safe spaces for their diverse workforces. Dr. Chance warns that wearing a "mask" at work can lead to detrimental behaviors, such as failing to admit mistakes, blaming others, and stifling others' voices. Opening the culture to create inclusion enables the exploration of new ideas and perspectives and allows leaders to demonstrate that they are not infallible and are willing to learn from others for the good of the team, which ultimately leads to greater enterprise success.
The Open Mainframe Project will host its next webinar in the "Making our Strong Community Stronger" series on Wednesday, November 10 at 11:30 am EST. Check out our piece on the first webinar, "How Personal Experiences Shape Corporate Inclusion”, and look for an update soon on how to register for the November 10 webinar.