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Why Code-Switching Can be Harmful in the Workplace

By Sanjida Meem

How we interact with our friends and family may be quite different from how we interact in a professional setting. For many underrepresented groups, developing a different persona at work has become normalized and it is sometimes expected by certain organizations. Code-switching is when people of color (POC), and other minorities, either consciously or unconsciously change their behaviors such as speech, dress, and mannerisms to conform to the dominant culture in their work environment.

However, this can be quite harmful. Minorities may feel they have to develop this “persona” to disguise their cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. When interacting with non-POC, employees may change their regular forms of expression to make others around them feel more comfortable or to fit in, which can have consequences for the organization’s culture. Institutions that do not foster a diverse and inclusive environment can experience high employee turnover rates as well as miss out on unique perspectives that minorities may bring to the workplace.

Workplaces have begun to realize how critical it is to have a diverse environment where people of color and marginalized groups have a sense of inclusion and belonging. Many have adopted diversity, inclusion, and equity into their hiring practices and work culture. In recent years, large companies have implemented employee resource groups as well as additional support for those interested in interacting with others who share similar interests. These internal communities provide opportunities for employees who share a characteristic, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, lifestyle, or interest to support one another in the workplace. Other ways organizations can build a culture of understanding and acceptance include having staff events that recognize holidays specific to minority culture, holding implicit bias training, and hiring a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) expert. Having spaces for employees to be themselves and share their cultural/ethnic and religious identities allows for the healthy exchange of knowledge and ideas.

These efforts can have a profound positive impact in the workplace environment that include increased revenues, creativity & innovation, greater team collaboration, improved engagement, performance, and retention as well as reduced discrimination and harassment allegations. People are more likely to stay at an organization where there is a sense of belonging and that ultimately benefits employees and employers alike.

 

Sanjida Meem is a Career Coach at the Ignite Career Center of Jewish Community Services.

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go further and get there faster. Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition. To learn more, visit ignitecareercenter.com or call 410-466-9200

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