Nicole (Nikki) Vars McCullough is the Global Application Engineering and Regulatory Affairs Vice President for 3M’s Personal Safety Division. She has worked in occupational health and safety for over 25 years. Nikki has a masters and doctorate in Occupational and Environmental Health from the University of Minnesota, USA and is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). Here she shares her views on authenticity and being a woman in the workplace.
More and more companies are implementing policies around workforce gender diversity; however, research has shown that policy alone does not drive change. Businesses where individuals truly believe that diversity is beneficial are those that have diverse and inclusive cultures. Globally, and in North America, there has been an increase in companies with at least one woman in senior management, but there hasn’t been an increase in the proportion of women in senior roles – and statistics show that percentage has decreased very slightly globally and by two percent in North America. This study offered some recommendations for business leaders in increasing gender diversity, including reducing ‘mini-me’ recruitment and promotion, introducing sponsorship, being comfortable with discomfort and sharing your story.1
Diversity and inclusion are part of our culture at 3M. Having a diverse set of coworkers is recognized as a key to growth and ensuring that we are inclusive – leveraging our differences – is just as important. 3M strongly believes that an inclusive environment drives engagement, creativity, and innovation and helps to keep us relevant. Supporting and appreciating the differences of our colleagues is key, but it’s just as important to appreciate ourselves and for everyone to bring their authentic self to work every day.2
Sometimes being authentic, being yourself, can be uncomfortable, particularly for women and particularly when there aren’t many other (or any other) women in the room. I have had many conversations with women worried about how they may be perceived based on how they act – if they are firm and blunt, will they be labeled a certain way? If they are naturally happy and nice, will they be perceived as too soft? If they get really frustrated or angry and cry in front of someone, does that show weakness? If you’re the only woman in the room and the only one who has to leave at 5:00 to pick up kids, does that make you less dedicated? Even in a workplace that does value diversity and inclusion, these may be concerns of many women.
To really value diversity and inclusion takes everyone – that means valuing your coworkers’ attributes as well as your own. Researchers have found that when a person can be themselves at work, when they are following their personal values – “walking your talk” – it leads to better performance, higher satisfaction and higher engagement.3 There are many great resources out there for women interested in authenticity and many views on it. One perspective that really resonated with me is that it is not just being your raw self – being authentic in the workplace is about being your best self in the situation and staying true to your personal values. Authenticity may evolve or adapt based on the role or circumstances.3
Being authentic and sharing your story with others, may be uncomfortable at times but it can be a critical factor in improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The more women that embrace authenticity, the less stereotypes we’ll have. We can spend more time driving results and less time worrying about others’ perceptions of us. I’ll admit that I’ve been concerned about how I’m being perceived as a female manager, but the more I embrace authenticity, the more time I spend reflecting than worrying. I’m so thankful to work for a company that truly values inclusion, has so many authentic women leaders to look to as mentors and has allowed me to be myself for the last 22 years.
1 Grant Thorton; Women in business: beyond policy to progress. March 2018 https://www.grantthornton.global/globalassets/1.-member-firms/global/insights/women-in-business/grant-thornton-women-in-business-2018-report.pdf
3 Lead with Authenticity. Women at Work Podcast, February 9, 2018. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/podcast/2018/02/lead-with-authenticity