By Cedric Brown

Everywhere you go, you hear conversations about it. Every so often online, you see an article about it. It’s a topic you can’t escape from, and one that you shouldn’t even if you could.

Diversity (and in some cases, inclusion).

Many of you are likely either in search of your first public relations job or are just starting your careers. Maybe you’re somewhat aware of the challenges PR has faced in becoming a more diverse and inclusive profession. And if you are, maybe the possibility of having to put it into practice makes you nervous.

If any one of these are true for you, the big question you might be asking yourself is, “What can I do? I’m just a junior-level employee!”

At last year’s PRSA International Conference in San Diego, I co-presented a session with Dr. Aerial Ellis and Y’Anad Burrell titled “The Authenticity Code: Getting Real About Diversity & Inclusion.” The premise of our presentation was to engage attendees about what authenticity looks like from the employee, leadership and strategic perspectives. It also came with a quiz that scores authenticity to help improve workplace cultures.

From our lens, we’re looking at authenticity as your ability to let people simply exist as themselves in the workplace in a way that maintains professionalism but that doesn’t hamper your freedom of expression.

That’s where you come in.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about today’s society it’s been the need to be more authentic with ourselves and the people we work with. Your generation (and mine) are catalysts for this value becoming more prevalent.

We have the power to make sure the places we work are more authentic. Here are five ways you can do that:

  1. Be consistent. The same person you are with your with your co-workers/supervisor(s) should be the same person you are with your friends and family outside of work. You want to make sure you’re in an organization that limits the need for you to “code-switch”—alternating between two or more languages or ways of speaking in conversation. The problem with code-switching is that it’ll eventually wear you down having to put on a front for one set of people and not the other. Find an organization that let’s you bring your whole self to work.
  1. Be understood. Every person comes with their own unique culture, or “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” As such, you’re not solely defined by your race/ethnicity, gender, and orientation. As you get comfortable with your organization, be authentic enough to share your personal interests, hobbies, philosophies, and/or local customs. You’ll be amazed at how it feels to find common ground with coworkers.
  1. Have open conversations with co-workers/supervisors. To foster a healthy working environment, it’s important that you feel authentic enough to say what’s on your mind (in a professional way, of course). If you sense a conflict brewing, take the steps to voice your concerns directly first rather than letting issues fester until they reach a breaking point.
  1. Address your bias. Have you witnessed people behave more favorably towards certain employees than others? That’s what it means to experience bias. Even if it’s your own behavior, be authentic enough to recognize when you’re carrying yourself differently around people based on their race/ethnicity, gender, or orientation. Then, take the steps to address it by seeking professional development. Think of it as a way to narrow a weak spot that could hinder your growth.
  1. Get uncomfortable. Authenticity is not a one-way street. Just as you want the space to be yourself, so do your coworkers. Especially when you’re working with professionals of color, you may find that they want to address issues of racism that they experience in and out of work. The best thing you can do is listen without being defensive. Ask questions when it’s appropriate, then demonstrate that you’ve heard the issues and be willing to ask what you can do to help.

Simply put, authenticity means finding a way you can just be yourself no matter where you are. When you do that in a workplace, you might just inspire others to do the same. Leadership by example is one of the best ways you can influence change.

Cedric F. Brown, APR, is the digital campaigns strategist at Advancement Project National Office, a next-generation, multiracial civil rights organization supporting local and national movements. Find him being his most authentic self on Twitter @abrothanamedCed. Cedric is a regular contributor for PRSA Strategies & Tactics where he discusses these important topics.