Authenticity might seem like just buzzword; a word brands, celebrities and influencers throw around to appeal to mass audiences. But despite its overuse in popular culture, behind the buzzword, authenticity is something that really matters for the individual – both personally and professional.
With the help of some of the UK’s leading coaches and experts – many of which you will hear from at AllBright's upcoming IWD Summit on the 10th March 2023 – I’m going to tell you why.
Why does being authentic matter?
There are several reasons why being authentic matters.
Firstly, let’s consider the mental health implications of the opposite; the real cost of not being authentic. As life coach Gemma Perlin explains, there’s a strong correlation between anxiety and a lack of authenticity. She says:
“Authenticity is about being true to yourself, about a deep sense of knowing that all the parts of yourself are truly acceptable and able to be shown to the world. When we do not feel like it is safe to be ourselves, we become fragments of ourselves, we feel more anxious, panicky, doubt our decisions, and feel held back. Life feels filled with things that feel like obstacles, rather than an exciting journey.”
Thus, living authentically leads to greater self-acceptable – and this can show up as confidence, calm and joy in the workplace.
As Perlin says, "When we can be authentic, we can be released from what can feel like a bondage of anxiety, overwhelm and panic in our lives. Life feels more fulfilling, liberating and full of possibility."
Sounds good, right?
Karen Laos, a confidence expert, furthers this, arguing that authenticity is also key to creating connection with others. She believes authenticity shows our humanity, and people connect at a deeper level when people aren’t perfect. We are more approachable and relatable.
With a 20+ year corporate career, she’s helped hundreds of women find their confidence in the workplace. She believes authenticity is vital for workplace fulfilment: “when you think of the alternative - hiding the real you, trying to be what you think others want you to be, holding back from sharing your ideas, worried about what other people think….All of that suppresses your brilliance. The world needs your unique voice and story, and if we’re parading around with a mask, then we aren’t living the life we could be - the one that we dream of.’
Desiree Silverstone, an executive coach, relates authenticity to relationship-building. She tells me, "When we're authentic, we create an environment that encourages openness and trust, which leads to healthier relationships and better communication. As Carl Rogers famously said: 'The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.'"
How can we be more authentic?
Now, this all sounds great, right?
We want to live more authenticity and reap the benefits. But how do we get there? What are the tools to deepen your confidence and self-belief?
Mamta Gera is a holistic coach with 20+ years of experience – she believes a starting point for building confidence is self-awareness. She tells me that being able to recognise the characteristics that define your unique personality, including your actions, values, beliefs, emotions, and idea is where confidence begins.
One way to start recognising these things is through journaling - research has shown that it boosts your mood, reduces stress and even improves your immune function with 5-10 minutes a day. Gera also recommends a practice of daily reflections; writing down one thing you are grateful for, one that has made you happy and one thing you have accomplished.
Confidence expert Laos recommends creating a celebration portfolio - a collection of compliments, testimonials, and kind words said about you. Sometimes it’s hard to find our confidence and having a collection of sentiments that remind you of how amazing you are can be extremely helpful to reference, especially when you’re having an off day, she says.
She also advises practicing projecting your voice and speaking up in more situations. Start recognising if you’re quick to speak or if you tend to hold back.
Record yourself whenever possible - in a real-life situation - so you can hear how you sound with your voice. Do you need to speak louder and with more variety and conviction in your voice? That will help you get a sense of how others experience you.
Desiree Silverstone raises the importance of affirmations. She says: "identifying positive affirmations can be extremely helpful when it comes to boosting self-confidence and believing in ourselves more clearly. Positive affirmations are statements which we repeat out loud or silently each day with the intention of reframing our negative thought patterns into something more constructive and empowering. Affirmations may include things like “I am capable of achieving my goals” or “I am worthy of love” - any statement that speaks positively about yourself is fair game."
Why do leaders need to encourage all women to be their authentic selves?
If we look to the wider workplace, why does authenticity and confidence for women really matter?
Liz Villiani is Founder and CEO of #BeYourselfAtWork. She talks about the financial benefits of empowering women at work. She says: "The case for being your authentic self at work has long been proven. One in five employees expects to change jobs this year, with 63% sharing their motivator is to ‘truly be themselves at work’ (PwC) and according to Gallup, an organisation of 100 employees can expect their war on talent costs to reach between £488k to £1.9 million annually."
She tells me, unsurprisingly, women don’t back themselves in the workplace like men do. Women are 21% more likely than men to unfavourably compare themselves to others. They are also more sensitive to perceived slights and are 38% more likely to feel Imposter Syndrome than men. Since women are more likely to feel insecure in the workplace, it’s critical that leaders take measures to ensure all women can be their authentic selves at work to give them better work satisfaction. Creating an inclusive atmosphere for women improves productivity, boosts workplace satisfaction and reduces talent attrition.
The best way to create a level playing field for women in the workplace is to encourage them to be their authentic selves. Authenticity helps every aspect of a woman’s working life, from forging more meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients, to being in a relaxed state of mind which improves productivity. Ultimately, not being yourself will likely have a detrimental effect on your mental health and self-worth.
Cheryl Rickman, author of ‘You Can Flourish: A Wellness Workbook to Help You Feel Your Best’, talks about job retention in relation to authenticity. She says "When leaders encourage women to be all that they are, they are saying, ‘you have my approval to be yourself, you belong here, and you don’t have to change who you are or dilute your true self to fit in’. That is golden, not only because someone who feels like they belong is more likely to stick around, but because they will give you the very best of themselves when they are bringing their whole self to work – authenticity generates the best work."
Conversely, covering the parts of ourselves we think we shouldn’t reveal, (such as speaking differently, toning down our exuberance, muting our colourful style or reigning ourselves in when we think we ought not speak up) is a form of people pleasing which prevents us from showcasing our full strengths and dilutes our talents. Covering who you are is not efficient. It’s exhausting trying to be someone you’re not.
How can leaders create a better work culture for women?
Dr Mandy Lehto is an executive coach and podcaster. She impresses the need for leaders to create this inclusive work culture where women can thrive. She says transparency is at the heart of good leadership – "an inclusive culture means that everyone has the same opportunities for progression. As a leader, this can mean showing up from a place of curiosity, and not needing to know all the answers."
She emphasises about the importance of collecting data – engaging in regular feedback and ongoing dialogue that optimises the work environment. Before spending time and money on new initiatives, do your homework, she says. Collect data to get clear, on a broader scale, what initiatives and changes would make the biggest impact for women.
And finally, creating a speak-up culture. She says "leaders can help to build a feedback and speaking-up culture within their organisation. This not only creates psychological safety for women to continue to express their needs, it also sets the foundations for their more active participation day to day. If leaders themselves can become better listeners – I can’t say that too many times – that helps immensely. So does growing their awareness of how women’s voices can be amplified.’
So, there you have it. Being authentic is a superpower – and the world needs to hear your voice. Go out and use it.
If you want to find out more about how to be authentically you, join us on 10 March for our International Women's Day Step Forward summit.