Floorish Newsletter 🎭 Code-switching

Welcome to the fourteenth edition of the Floorish newsletter dedicated to providing you with insightful data, ideas and views on diversity, equity and inclusion. In this newsletter, taking no more than 3 minutes of your time, I aim to keep you informed and inspired with thought-provoking content, practical tips and inspiring stories.

Embarking on a transformative journey in the UK, my entry into a consultancy marked the beginning of a profound exploration. Within weeks, I discerned a collective discontent among my colleagues, specifically directed at the communication from our management team. Drawing upon my Dutch directness, I chose to confront the issue head-on and initiated a one-on-one discussion with my line manager, who also held the CEO position. Unfortunately, the outcome diverged from my expectations, leading to my departure from the organisation. Reflecting on this experience, I’ve come to understand that embracing and adapting to the nuances of UK culture could have steered me towards a different approach.

Comparable scenarios unfolded during my professional stint in Germany. Navigating workplaces in diverse countries, alongside individuals from various nationalities, demanded a profound understanding of intricacies. Especially when finding myself in the minority, it necessitated a considerable degree of adjustment. Recently, my contemplation on the intensity of the constant effort devoted to ensuring effective adaptation led me to delve into an exploration of the concept of code-switching.

Broadly defined, code-switching represents the art of adjusting speech, appearance, behaviour, and expression to enhance the comfort of others. In an ideal workplace, celebrating diverse expressions fosters a culture where colleagues can authentically communicate and behave, cultivating cultural awareness and empathy. Inclusive code-switching practices not only elevate employee well-being but also unlock invaluable benefits such as improved creativity, collaboration, and overall productivity. Regrettably, not all workplaces embody this ideal setting. Let’s intimately explore the challenges that surface in such circumstances.

1. Examples of code-switching at work

  • Dutch expat: In my professional setting, instances of code-switching have become apparent as I’ve come to recognise that a substantial part of my mental process involves strategically responding with culturally accepted language while simultaneously preserving my authentic Dutch ‘voice.’
  • LGBTQ+ member: Podesva discusses an example of code-switching, illustrating the complexities faced by a gay lawyer during a radio interview on anti-gay discrimination. Striking a delicate balance, the lawyer conveys a recognisably gay identity and an educated demeanour, challenging stereotypes.
  • Black professionals: In certain professional settings, black individuals may opt for hairstyles aligned with conventional standards, such as straightened or styled hair, to meet workplace expectations.

2. Reasons for code-switching

  • Professional image: Projecting a professional image and enhancing employability, regardless of someone’s background.
  • Negative stereotype: Counteracting negative stereotypes associated with someone’s identity, aiming to be seen as competent.
  • Career advancement: Aligning communication styles with dominant groups fosters a sense of similarity, increasing the likelihood of career advancement, as people tend to favour those they perceive as similar.

3. Examples of inclusive code-switching practices

  • Inclusive leaders: Connecting with leaders embracing inclusivity to reduce the need for code-switching, enabling individuals to succeed authentically. Leaders must educate themselves on the impact of code-switching, recognising it in diverse scenarios.
  • Employee networks: Establishing secure spaces for connection and open dialogue about code-switching.
  • Hiring strategy: Diminishing the dominance of a single culture by emphasising diversity through initiatives like a transparent diversity hiring strategy.

Diving deeper into code-switching, I stumbled upon a TEDx talk titled A lesbian walks into a bathroom: a lesson on code-switching, which I wholeheartedly recommend watching. This talk offers profound insights into the experiences of individuals who frequently engage in code-switching, portraying it not just as a career strategy but as a crucial adaptation for basic survival. Speaker Lauren Hough sheds light on the journeys of immigrants, black individuals, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, illustrating the vital role code-switching plays in their lives. 

Furthermore, she underscores that individuals within majority groups, particularly straight white men, frequently underestimate the necessity of code-switching due to a lack of awareness about the inadvertent threats they may pose. Additionally, Hough compellingly advocates for the significance of straight white men acquiring this invaluable skill.

To sum up, as we collectively embrace the richness of diverse expressions, let us actively foster environments where authenticity is not only celebrated but also protected, ensuring that the workplace becomes a truly inclusive space for all to flourish.

I hope these insights have sparked your curiosity and I invite you to share any data, ideas or views you believe should be highlighted in future newsletters. Stay tuned for the next edition.

Warm regards,

Floor Martens

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