Cortney’s DEI Spotlight:  Designing Inclusive Talent Systems with “Bringing Your Whole Self to Work” in Mind

Cortney Graham | December 18, 2019

Do you remember that time you laughed and joked about the latest meme floating around Instagram with your favorite coworker, letting your hair down and turning your “professional persona” off for a bit? After “getting your life” at lunch, you later transformed back into your “professional” persona for your big pitch to the leadership team?

It’s something that many people do, almost organically, when transitioning between home and work or friend and current/potential colleagues.  But why?  In a work environment, particularly in the education sector, where “bringing your whole self to work” is encouraged, this shouldn’t be necessary. There’s a name for this conscious, sometimes unconscious, shift in behavior: code-switching. Code-switching is defined as the “process of shifting from one linguistic code (a language or dialect) to another, depending on the social context or conversational setting.”  The term code-switching can also be used more broadly to describe subtle shifts in how individuals express themselves in different spaces.

The author of Bring Your Whole Self to Work, Mike Robbins, says: “When we don’t bring our whole selves to work we suffer – lack of engagement, lack of productivity, and our well-being is diminished.  We aren’t able to do our best, most innovative work, and we spend and waste too much time trying to look good, fit in, and do or say the “right” thing. For teams and organizations, this lack of psychological safety makes it difficult for the group or company to thrive and perform at their highest level because people are holding back some of who they really are.”

In the final installment of our DEI series, this month we are exploring the concept and importance of bringing your whole self to work in relation to code-switching, and the potential bias that can emerge as a result. Code-switching is a common behavior across all sectors, private and public.  It is so common that in 2013, NPR launched a blog, which has since also become a podcast, called CodeSwitch. The CodeSwitch team was created to cover race, ethnicity, and culture in the different spaces members of the CodeSwitch team inhabit, and the “tensions of trying to navigate between them.”  

In their inaugural blog post, the CodeSwitch team referenced examples from President Obama saying “Nah, we straight” to an employee while dining at a popular D.C. restaurant, to Beyonce breaking her superstar persona to trash talk over a game of pool with friends, as evidence that literally everyone code-switches to some extent.

The Challenge

According to the Learning Policy Institute and countless others, a “positive school climate can improve academic achievement”.  We also know that in large part school climate depends on the wellness of adults, which suffers when they can’t be their authentic selves.  In some ways, code-switching is the opposite of bringing your whole self to work. 

This blog post will discuss how leaders can take proactive steps to operationalize the notion of bringing your whole self to work by ensuring that they encourage difference and limit the need for secret code switching. Specifically, bias based on someone’s appearance or speech is particularly common when it comes to hiring and selection.

Have you ever interviewed a candidate that had a strong resume and stellar references, but when you interviewed them you had a hard time connecting to their personal experience? How should hiring managers account for this in the interview process? Often times when interviewing candidates, the hiring manager may be listening for education buzz words. But does using different words to describe the same concepts  mean that the candidate is unqualified for the position?

The failure to prepare for these scenarios  may lead to hiring bias. In a similar vein, recent headlines and social media influencers  discuss African-American women who have been discriminated against when applying for jobs, because employers have taken issue with their natural hair. I always thought that being a young African-American woman in the workplace automatically meant that I would have to offer up another version of myself when interviewing to be accepted and respected. But do I? Should I have to?

I say, no. In an ideal world, I and job seekers, in general, should be able to be our authentic selves when interviewing. If we are capable, confident, and qualified there should be no need to adjust language and behavior in a way that forces you to code-switch. Despite my personal sentiments, I know and understand that the reality is that in many organizations people are penalized for bringing their whole selves to work. Hiring processes are often riddled with blindspots that allow bias to sneak in, hence the need to code-switch. While we hope and continue to strive to live in a society that universally promotes the idea of bringing your whole self to work, I realize that for many people this is difficult to do out of fear of repercussions. 

The Solution

Employers must design equitable and inclusive hiring and selection processes that keep code-switching and eliminating bias top of mind, while continuing to uphold those standards after people are hired and continue to bring their whole selves to work.  Here are some ways you can take steps to build inclusive talent systems that keep bringing your whole self to work in mind:


  • Provide anti-bias training and guidance to the hiring team: Everyone is biased in some way. However, we should be conscious about how we understand and mitigate those biases.. When designing your hiring and selection processes, work to minimize bias by training all staff involved in the hiring process before interviewing candidates. Provide staff with training in implicit bias and cultural competence. You can start with a self-assessment tool such as the Harvard IAT test. Shenendehowa Central Schools, a public school district in New York, has employed an anti-bias hiring video. The video “assertively states that the district is looking to hire for diversity and to ensure interview committees are aware of bias, in an effort to reduce their own bias.” By actively working to eliminate and expose bias on the front end, during the interview process, interviewers are more keenly aware and can work to ensure that bias is not a major factor in their decision to hire or not hire a candidate. 



  • Conduct a ‘gut check’ for content over delivery.  When interviewing candidates, don’t fret if you don’t hear certain buzzwords. The jargon can be learned and picked up later if absolutely necessary for success on the job. Pay more attention to the content of what the candidate is saying. Though it may not be packaged the way you are accustomed, ask yourself how that skill or mindset could be beneficial to your organization and what value the individual could potentially bring to your team. If you feel bias creeping in, check it! At EdFuel, we recommend that the hiring panel complete a “gut-check” after scoring candidates during their interviews. The gut-check is simply a self reflection exercise that the hiring panel engages in to ensure  that the candidate is being judged by their credentials and overall capability to do the job rather than the interviewer’s personal opinions. Questions may prompt the hiring panel to consider in what ways the candidate can contribute to the team or may excel based on their overall qualifications and experience. Once the gut-check is completed, reconcile the responses against the candidate’s overall rating on a comprehensive rubric. Both the gut-check questions and rating should be reflective of each other; if they are not, hiring panels should stop to consider what went wrong. 



  • Do the work to build your organizational culture and employee value proposition (EVP). EVP is the reason people come to your organization and is ultimately the reason why they decide to stay. Compensation, organizational mission, working environment, and opportunities for professional growth are not enough individually to keep people at your organization. The four elements must work in concert. When building your organizational culture and EVP, make it a point to build an environment that is open and accepting of the differences that exist within your organization. Check your biases at the door and talk about having a diverse hiring team. While this is not always possible you CAN proactively identify the potential biases of the hiring staff for a given candidate, make a note of them and check for them when scoring candidates, or seek an outside opinion in the areas that are particularly ripe for bias.



These are my thoughts on why building talent systems that promote bringing your whole self to work are  important. What do you think? Join the conversation with me and the rest of the EdFuel team on email, Twitter or Instagram.