Be Who You Are?

Our social media feeds are full of snippets of this sentiment. We see the memes and the inspirational posts about being true to yourself and letting the people who appreciate you love you. F&*% all the other people who don’t. Just be you, that’s how to live. 

Be your authentic self.

Live true to who you are. 

Be you.

Don’t hide your self and your expression of who you are.

Great sentiment and one that resonates with me. Advice that I

have worked on for many years to embrace and live. My name itself is a reminder

of this. Lola. An acronym of Live Openly. Live Authentically. I embrace that, I

do. 

But do I? Do any of us? Especially when it comes to the world of

workplaces and – shudder – searching for a job.

I am job searching again recently and with that comes interviews

and meetings with potential employers. With that also comes the ever present

question of how best to present myself in an effort to make myself appear to be

the person who they want.

Read that again. 

Be the person who they want.

Which means, in a nutshell, present a version of me that they

will find acceptable. Why? The simple answer is that authentic me is not viewed

as acceptable in a corporate or executive arena of business. Sad, but true. This

is not just conjecture on my part, I have tried to be more openly ‘me’ in

interviews and have had comments made which have provided me with assurances

that looking a certain way is what is needed to be advanced in a corporate

world. Sure, we have come a long way but the hard reality is that people are

very much judged on appearance and with that judgement comes a perception not

only of who you are, but how you will perform as an employee – a perception

based very heavily on how you look. 

Even in our forward thinking ‘be your authentic self’ society,

there is still a very narrow band of acceptable ‘authenticity’ in the corporate

workplace. By all means, be yourself. As long as the you that you present fits

into the box that business offices say is acceptable.

The picture with this post is a great picture that captures ‘me’

in many ways. My personality peeks through and my hair is my favourite way to

wear it. My nose ring, which I love, is clearly visible. Even my small neck tattoo is somewhat visible. I feel that this picture is a good representation of ‘me’. Do I have this as my LinkedIn profile picture though? Goodness no! It’s not ‘professional’’ enough. 

When I go for interviews, there are certain areas of myself that

I am highly conscious of being careful about showing/not showing. 

Visible tattoos? Maybe. Depends. Best to keep those not visible

for the first interview just in case they aren’t okay with it… because many

organizations still aren’t. Trust me; I’ve had this mentioned more than once in

an interview. I’ve been asked that, if I were to get the job, would I be okay

with dressing every day to keep them covered? Of course, everyone knows that

tattoos alter the way that my brain would be able to process information and

draft a communique. Best to not let them be too visible. 

Undercut haircut? Again, maybe, maybe not. Best to keep my hair

down though, covering the shaved sides just in case my expression of ‘me’ isn’t

acceptable to their office environment and the ‘look’ that they are going for.

As everyone knows, how my hair is styled is in direct correlation to how well I

can create a report or track expenses for the financial department. It’s bad

enough that my naturally fluffy hair never seems to be able to be tamed into

corporate smoothness anyways, can’t let those shaved sides peek out.

Nose ring? Not even going to risk that. My retainer will be in

and will remain in thank you very much. The one time that I did leave it in for

an interview (had a brain hiccup and forgot about it) it was pointed out that I

would not be considered for the position unless I assured them that it would be

removed. Nose rings, as we all know, automatically lower a person’s

intelligence. 

“Unnaturally” coloured hair. While my hair at the moment is not

enhanced with the blues and purples and pinks that I love, I am very conscious

that alternative colours are not generally favourably viewed in corporate

Canada. As all employers know, blue streaks would inhibit my ability to

prioritize work tasks. How silly of me to have not remembered that.

The reality is that very few of us are lucky enough to work in

an environment that allows expression of who we are – fully and authentically.

Most workplaces are still living in the practice of a homogenized, generic

corporate ‘look’ that equates a person’s appearance with their abilities and

potential performance in a work role. 

The work world has not come as far as we think it has. It says

it has sometimes. It speaks to appreciating individuality and authenticity in

its employees. It speaks to wanting people who think outside the box and bring

fresh perspectives. Yet when they are presented with a visual representation of

those qualities in the form of someone who doesn’t look a certain way, those

people somehow don’t make it past the first interviews.

So for now, I will keep up with putting on the high necked, long

sleeved blouses, letting my hair down to cover the undercut and tucking my nose

ring away. I will make sure that the authentic wonderful unique self that

companies say that they want looks like the box that the employer has open to

fill.

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