Authenticity Principle in Diversity and Inclusion

by Dr. Jasjit Sangha

This is a guest post from my friend and colleague, Jasjit Sangha, PhD, University of Toronto. She interviewed Ritu Bhasin, Global Diversity and Inclusion Expert, on the key ideas from her book “The Authenticity Principle: Resist Conformity, Embrace Differences and Transform How You Live, Work and Lead”. Jasjit wanted to understand how authentic leadership can contribute to creating more equitable, engaged and innovative workplaces.

Q. What are the benefits to an organization if they develop a culture of authentic leadership?

A: Research shows that team members who have leaders who are authentic feel enhanced well-being, greater levels of trust, their morale is better, they feel more connected to their leader, and they feel more satisfaction on the job. All of these are key ingredients that go into employee engagement, productivity, inclusion, and retention.

Q: How can a team benefit from a leader who practices mindful listening?

A: Team members will feel seen and heard and emotionally safe and will not have to use words to communicate how they are doing all the time. They will feel at ease, less stressed and anxious, better sense of well-being.

Q.: What are the top 3 takeaways you wish for leaders to know about authentic leadership?

A.: Authentic leadership has the ability to create a more empowered, inclusive and innovative workforce. It will help to improve employee’s mental health, physical health and spiritual health, all of which is critical for employee productivity, engagement, quality of work and retention. In order to create an environment in which team members bring more of who they are to work, leaders must go first. So they must behave authentically and model the behaviour.

Q.: What are some small tangible steps that leaders can take to help them overcome their fears of being more authentic?

A.: In my research I have found that the reason people who mask who they are, or hide who they are, or change their behaviour to conform is because of a fear of judgement or a fear of bias. Essentially they fear rejection, social alienation, vulnerability, and shame. So, one of the most important things a leader can be aware of is: “What are my fears? What are the barriers? What is preventing me being authentic? Why am I afraid of being who I am?”

The other piece that is so important for a leader to focus on, because leaders are people too, yet they have the term “leader” attached to them, but this does not mean they are any different than any other human being. What a leader also needs to do is figure out is what triggers they have that cause them to shut down.


In the book I talk a lot about the bullying I faced, whether it was raced based or it was about class privilege. So everyone has their triggers that cause them to feel like they have to conform or hide aspects of their identity. So when we have a better sense of our fears are and we are equipped with a better understanding of what our triggers are, we are more likely, when we are in a situation where it is fight or flight, to be able to understand that it is not actually that I should be hiding or masking who I am, it’s my fear of it, so let me bravely, courageously soldier through this.

Q.: How could a leader interrupt pressure to conform or minimize differences in the workplace?

A.: The number one thing a leader can do to interrupt minimization is to share their own differences, because you can scratch the word minimization out and put sameness or conformity. Minimization is what makes us the same and because we fear differences, we minimize differences. The key way to combat this is celebrating differences, leveraging differences, talking about differences, and sharing differences.

Q.: How important is empathy is striving to be an authentic leader?

A.: I talk a lot in the book about self-compassion. Empathy is the kindness and caring we give others and self-compassion is the kindness and caring we give to ourselves. So empathy and compassion go hand in hand. One of the most important things is we can do for ourselves is to give ourselves empathy, because how we treat ourselves is how we treat other people. Especially as it relates to what has caused us for a long time to conform and mask aspects of our identity. So rather than being hard on ourselves and engaging in negative self-talk, we say to ourselves: “I am scared and I see why I am scared, because other people have not been nice to me in the past, but I am with my friends right now and these are friends are going to be really nice to be and I should be me”. Actually engage in self-coaching, the power of self-coaching is critical and the reason this is so important is sometimes when we see someone behaving in a way that is off-putting or obnoxious, our first reaction is think they are arrogant. But we often don’t consider is that person is lashing out based on their own woundedness and when we understand our own woundedness it helps us to see others, and rather than vilify them we are more likely to empathise.

Q.: Thank you for an inspiring conversation Ritu! I feel this is an important message to get out to leaders as well as learning and development professionals who are working in an educational capacity in their organization and are well positioned to make a difference.

A.: Thank you! I hope that leaders will find The Authenticity Principle helpful for doing this work--because in 2018, if we want to create inclusive work cultures, authenticity is key.

Tags: #authenticity #diversity #inclusion #ritubhasin #jasjitsangha

Find out more about Jasjit on LinkedIn: All copyrights are not ours but with the owners of the photos. All guest post comments and opinions are their own and not reflective of Robin Yap.