Lately i've been thinking about vulnerability at work. Having worked in many different countries, I've seen how the work culture drastically changes depending on the larger social culture that it sits within. The one thing that remains common through all these different cities and companies is that I very rarely come across an expectation or even acceptance of vulnerability at work. The more I think about this, the less it makes sense to me — we spend a majority of our day at work having purely transactional conversations all day long, which leave no room for vulnerability and by that affect no room for real connection.
I want to draw a line here between vulnerability and transparency — a lot of tech companies pride themselves on having an internal culture that is radically transparent, but really what I am talking about is something entirely different. Transparency is just being able to see things as they are, but vulnerability is the ability to be your whole self, with the understanding that there will be disappointment, times when you will be proven wrong, imperfect or simply human.
Being vulnerable is something i've struggled with in the past and continue to work on even now. It took me a long time to understand that it wasn't just me. The corporate structures that we exist in, perpetuate a very specific persona for what a credible worker looks like, one that has all the answers, is even-keel, calm and dispassionate in a controlled manner. This expectation is especially hard for femme individuals, the more they progress in the ranks the more they have to carry the emotional labour of having to have it all figured out. We have to consciously cultivate and adhere to this persona in order to not be discredited. For the first few years of my career I tried really hard to emulate this persona, so much so that it began to alter my own individual traits. Eventually though, I realised that the incessant "fake it till you make it" culture got in the way of me bringing my whole self to work and consequentially affected my ability to form any meaningful connections.
So I stopped, I intentionally stopped pretending to know what I didn't know, stopped trying to be detached and started reaching out, having real dialogue and asking for help. I realised that the more I reached out and accepted the generosity and expertise of those around me, the more confident I got in the things I knew as well. It sat easier with me and I found coming into work so much more energising. I discarded the notion of managerspeak which is the term I use for disingenuous and overly sugar-coated conversations that everyone can see through. The more I allowed myself to lean on others and have authentic conversations, just as much as I extended myself for them, the stronger those connections became.
To be vulnerable does not have to be a barrier to professionalism or credibility. In fact, in creative professions it can allow us to be closer to people that we are surrounded by and the people we design for. So, I invite you to imagine a workplace that allows and celebrates imperfection and vulnerability, as much as it celebrates achievement and drive.
I invite you to imagine a workplace, where you can truly be seen.
If this resonates with you, you have good (or bad) experiences around this, seen companies that do this well or you want to talk more about what this workplace could look like send me a Twitter DM on @sanarao