Diversity Insight: The complexities of code-switching

We pay a price when Black executives create facades of conformity to fit into corporate America

Most white Americans have never joined a meeting to find they are the only person of their race in attendance, so it can be hard for them to understand why Black executives feel dismissed and disenfranchised in corporate America. The truth is that many white-led corporations are happy to settle for an illusion of inclusion in which they are vocal about embracing diversity without putting in the work to integrate Black ideas. White leaders and employees may believe they are inclusive of all team members, but these beliefs are based on a white perspective that dismisses how Black professionals must change who they are to fit in with the status quo.

Research by McGill University’s Patricia Faison Hewlin shows that many minorities feel pressured to create “facades of conformity,” suppressing their personal values, views and attributes to fit in with organizational ones. But as Hewlin and her colleague Anna-Maria Broomes found in various industries and corporate settings, Blacks create these facades more frequently than other minority groups and feel the inauthenticity more deeply.

In a recent article, HBR identified three reasons Black professionals become experts at “code switching,” or changing how they talk and act around people of other ethnicities to fit in or downplay aspects of their true identity at work. These are:

 

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