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The Benefits of Bringing Your Whole Identity to Work

Source | | Sandra E. Cha | Laura Morgan Roberts

According to the conventional wisdom, if you want to succeed at work, you need to learn how to fit in culturally and play by the rules. The best strategy for success, the theory goes, is to downplay your differences—an approach that many cultural minorities, among them women and racial minorities, have embraced.

When we began examining how professionals of color have succeeded in fields where they’re underrepresented, we expected many of them to tell us that they’d used some version of this strategy to get ahead. But that’s not what we heard in our interviews with Asian American and African American journalists. As we recently reported in Organization Science, many of these journalists, all accomplished professionals, told us that to add value to their organizations and advance their careers, they had chosen not to blend in but rather to stand out, by shining a light on their differences and mobilizing their identities.

How can you make the most of your differences at work, especially as a cultural-minority professional? Here are four ways. (A caveat: There are risks with each of these strategies, which we’ll explore in a minute.)

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