Thirty-four percent of respondents in the Harris Poll said that they codeswitched in the workplace. Codeswitching, a popular NPR podcast and blog addressing issues relating to race, culture, and ethnicity adopted, primarily refers to changing either language or how a person expresses themselves in conversations. The reasons people code-switch at work, according to the survey, vary, as does the belief in the positive effects of the practice. 31% of Black respondents believe that codeswitching has had a positive impact, while 39% claim the practice has had no impact and another 39% believe that if they stopped codeswitching, it would hurt their careers.
According to Misty Gaither, Indeed’s Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, employers need to understand what codeswitching means. “Employers need to be aware of code-switching because you need to recognize when you’re getting the purest, most authentic version of a person that you’re bringing into your workforce. If somebody is feeling like they can’t really show all aspects of their identity, you’re missing out on parts of them that are actually going to be better for your business.”
Gaither continued, “A lot of times, we miss opportunities to build those genuine connections because of how we think a person is supposed to be relative to how they show up. If you, as a leader, model authenticity and openness, that’ll help with the frequency of code-switching and people needing to wear a mask to work.”
According to the study, four groups view codeswitching as necessary. Workers at companies who are scaling back DEI commitments, (56%) Black employees, (44%) workers who are between the ages of 18-34, (42%) and employees who have been discriminated against. Black employees (39%) are already familiar with the term codeswitching and can recognize when other employees are. Fifty percent of Black respondents say that they have seen Black and other people of color engage in codeswitching at work.
Gaither says that the numbers indicate the calculus Black employees sometimes feel needs to be performed to succeed in their workplaces. “We talk about it as this mask that we wear. It’s so many small pauses that Black people have to take. It’s a calculation that is very taxing and tiring to determine,” Gaither explained. “I think some people use code-switching as a strategy or a tactic.”
Representation has little bearing on the employment of codeswitching in the workplace, a finding that surprised Indeed. 34% of workers have codeswitched even at companies they consider to have a good representation of Black or other people of color in leadership positions. 32% have codeswitched at companies with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
According to Nicole Dixon, a manager of business operations and the co-chair for Indeed’s Black Inclusion Group, diversity tends to lend itself to the comfort of employees, particularly employees from marginalized backgrounds. “Teams need to be more diverse. You want people to feel comfortable in environments where they don’t see themselves,” Dixon explained. “If teams are more inclusive, and if I saw more individuals like myself and from a variety of different backgrounds in a room, I would feel more comfortable because there are different opinions; there are different thoughts.”
Conversely, most Black people surveyed indicated that code-switching has had no impact on their mental health (56%). In contrast, those who believed it had a negative or positive effect were identical, 23% and 21%, respectively. As NPR indicated in its reasons that people code-switch, the process is often unconscious, meaning that many employees don’t actively think about code-switching; they perform it.
According to Yahan Mensah, a UX designer and regional co-chair of Indeed’s Black Inclusion Group, companies need to “harness the insights, questions and feedback from their team members” to “Recogniz[e] that every individual within an organization contributes diverse perspectives shaped by their unique experiences.”
To that point, Gaither explained that a key for executives is to not impose their expectations for or of white people onto Black workers or workers of color. “It is really understanding the stories of people who are different from you,” Gaither said. “So if you are a C-suite executive, and you spend the majority of your time in white-dominant spaces and all of your closest peers are very similar to you — then that will be your lens. And you’re always going to be surprised when you meet someone who does not meet your bar for how someone should show up.”
Source: Black Enterprise