Delve podcast: Why Organizations Need Authentic People and Inclusive Policies, with Patricia Hewlin (Read Transcript)

Delve podcast, April 7, 2022, hosted by Robyn Fadden: Delve podcast: Why Organizations Need Authentic People and Inclusive Policies, with Patricia Hewlin
Robyn Fadden – host: Authenticity at work isn’t only about individual identity within an organization—it’s connected to the organization’s own integrity, including policies on equity, diversity, and inclusion. As workplaces have changed over the past 20 years of technological connectivity and global enterprise, the value of authenticity for employees, customers and clients, and management has increased, especially as it relates to a diversity of people and innovative ideas suited to today’s world.
Robyn Fadden – host: Welcome to the Delve podcast, the official thought leadership platform of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. I’m your host for this episode, Robyn Fadden. In this episode, I talk with Desautels Faculty of Management Professor Patricia Hewlin about her extensive research on the degrees of authenticity at work, how supplier diversity makes an impact on organizations’ goals for equity, diversity and inclusion, and what businesses and other organizations can learn from non-Western nations’ relational approach to authenticity.
Robyn Fadden – host: Welcome to the podcast Professor Hewlin.
We know, inherently that everybody comes to work with their own identity, which the workplace might or might not support. How do you define authenticity in your research on management studies?
Patricia Hewlin: In my research, we have a very simple definition. And it’s really the degree to which people are consistent in their behaviors, with their beliefs, and values and internal experiences. And so the degree to which I’m authentic is really the degree to which I am walking the talk. And walking out what is near to me in terms of my values, and my belief systems.
Robyn Fadden – host: Workplaces have changed a lot over the past 20 years alongside broader social and cultural shifts, and many workplaces have had to change during the pandemic. Has this definition of authenticity regarding management and work changed in practice, when we’ve seen more support for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives in the workplace, as well as more critique of these programs?
Patricia Hewlin: My research over close to 20 years now has actually centered on the challenge of being authentic in the workplace. And I developed this concept, which is called Creating Facades of Conformity, which actually explores the degree to which people feel pressure to suppress their personal values, and embrace those of the organization in order to survive and succeed in their careers and the workplace in general. And so this research has actually been a story of inclusion for a number of years a story of equity for a number of years in terms of the different experiences that people have in the workplace based upon their personal values, and even how they look their parents. And so when we connect this notion of creating facades of conformity to today’s workplace, a key question is, well, how can organizations create environments so that people feel included? So in terms of being true to themselves in the workplace.
Patricia Hewlin: Now, when I first started in this research, I would use the term bringing your whole self into the workplace, and I’m sure you’ve heard that term, bringing your whole self. I don’t really use that term anymore. Because I’ve learned through my research and through a number of interviews with people around this concept, that it’s really about having the ability to bring yourself into the workplace that allows you to be engaged in your work, and to thrive. And so if that means bringing your whole self, that’s great, but you don’t have to bring it all in. And frankly, it may not be helpful to bring it all in. And so we want to be mindful in the context in terms of doing that, because there are risk in doing that. So when we think about that, in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion, my research has found that those who hold minority status who have my minority status in the workplace, the more categories in which they hold a minority status, the more likely they’re going to feel pressure to create facades in the workplace because of the risks that are involved.
Robyn Fadden – host: With EDI initiatives, certain challenges to the status quo are being made, but a long-entrenched status quo is still being upheld and it’s still having an impact on anyone who doesn’t fit within it.
Patricia Hewlin: Absolutely. And when an organization says, Don’t bring your true self in the workplace, the question is, well, do you really want me to do that? And if I do, how are you going to treat me? And the status quo and then just rules around what is acceptable authenticity. I think about the studies, for example, around Black women and natural hair. A recent study by one of my collaborators, Ashleigh Rosette, and her colleagues show that when Black women wear their natural hair, they’re more likely to be viewed as unprofessional. And so even the rules around hair and appearance can suppress the degree to which someone would feel comfortable bringing their true selves into the workplace.
Robyn Fadden – host: The ideas of whole self, true self and work-self seem to almost verge into philosophical territory but how they play out in the workplace can have real consequences, as you’ve illustrated. So someone might not be bringing their true self to the workplace but they’re bringing their work self – is it possible for a work self to be authentic?
Patricia Hewlin: I always say to those engaged in my research, students as well as executives, that go back to your values. To what degree are you displaying yourself consistent or inconsistent with your values. So it is okay to manage impressions because we have to be successful. And we want to facilitate positive work interactions, positive relationships. However, if that impression management starts delving into an arena where we’re compromising our values, and compromising our core, then that’s going to be a problem.
Patricia Hewlin: And so in my research, I have found consistently when people feel pressured, and they’re engaging and creating facades, they are more likely to report higher levels of emotional exhaustion, they are more likely to have lower levels of working engagement, they are less committed to the organization and ironically, they are more likely to leave the organization. So they’ll report in saying that, well, I’m probably going to find a new job within the next three months, or within the next six months or a year. And one’s effort to fit in, by creating a facade actually leads to eventually leaving the organization because it’s identity work. It’s emotionally exhausting. And so it only benefits an organization to create an environment or foster an environment where people can be more true to themselves and reduce the level of facade creation.
Robyn Fadden – host: Because why should we have to put away a part of our personality or change the way we look to work, if workplaces are attempting to better integrate work with the realities of people’s lives.
Patricia Hewlin: More than ever, especially now, most of us are working from home, the personal and work life is a mixture, and the boundaries have become more and more blurred.
Robyn Fadden – host: During the pandemic, we’ve seen more of each other’s home lives than ever before, and so more authenticity, the parts that people may have put behind a façade for years prior. But who people are in the workplace is only one part of putting together the bigger puzzle of authentic equality, diversity and inclusion. You recently co-wrote a report called Perceptions of supplier diversity. What did you look at in that report and how does it relate to other diversity initiatives?
Patricia Hewlin: We conducted a meta analysis, and we looked at the experience of change agents. So I’ll define all of that. But I wanted to just acknowledge the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, which is part of the Diversity Institute’s and Ryerson University they supported this research monetarily through a grant. And I want to also recognize my authors, most of which are McGill grads. So it was really a wonderful thing to work with undergrads and MBA students and getting this done: Sandra Urbina Chang, Haoran Wang, Fiorella Rojas Vizarreta, as well as Zohreh Hassannezhad Chavoushi, she is part of Ryerson University. And so now that I’ve acknowledged but the key authors of this report, I will define supplier diversity for you. Basically supplier diversity refers to a strategic business process or initiatives. And they’re aimed at providing companies owned by women, indigenous peoples, and racial or racialized people, equal opportunities to become suppliers to major corporations across Canada and US their supplier diversity initiatives and other countries.
Patricia Hewlin: But in my research, we for the most part, looked at supplier diversity within the US and Canada. And so these initiatives are very similar to general diversity initiatives in terms of ensuring that they’re equal opportunities and more opportunities in general in which diverse suppliers can enter different areas of a supply chain, which might mean providing raw material to an organization to develop a product or it could be served as a service, which could even mean consulting. The bottom line is that it’s important that we continue to look at how we can promote the economy through supporting a diverse set of small to mid-size businesses.
Robyn Fadden – host: How is that done in practical terms – is it partly consciousness of having diverse suppliers, and partly having policies in place about this?
Patricia Hewlin: Canada has actually engaged in a number of initiatives regarding supply diversity. The Government of Canada has adopted policies and regulations that support small businesses. Particularly, there’s the procurement strategy for indigenous business. It’s a national initiative for indigenous services, Canada that increases federal contracting opportunities and improves access for federal procurement processes for indigenous businesses. There’s also the Procurement Assistance Canada which supports small businesses by encouraging their participation in federal government procurement. There are lots of large organizations, many of which you would know if I’m if I mentioned their names who, across industries, from automobile to supplies, office supplies These organizations participate and conferences, networking opportunities and other types of initiatives to engage with minority owned businesses to ensure that they understand what is needed to enter their supply chain just to develop relationships and so on.
Robyn Fadden – host: So developing those relationships in the first place is a major barrier?
Patricia Hewlin: Absolutely. It’s as if we’re traditionally engaging with the same types of suppliers, the same suppliers over the years, then one gets into the habit of doing so. And so part of supplier diversity is to say no let’s broaden the network, very similar to diversity. When we think about hiring employees. Well, what we find is that many organizations, although they might center on diversity, when it comes to hiring, when it comes to people, they often don’t think about, wow, well, I could be more diverse, this company could be more diverse, in terms of the different companies we engage in, in order to do our business. And what’s great is for the company is that in many cases, they tap into a broader set of consumers, because they’re tapping into diverse sets of communities. And they are building their business with a diverse perspective that many diverse suppliers bring to the table.
Patricia Hewlin: Part of this research that we conducted was to actually understand who are the change agents in these organizations? And what is their role in terms of making supplier diversity successful. And so we define change agents as professionals who promote supply diversity in their industries and sectors. And they are typically in informal or formal roles. And so in other words, many of them are simply procurement professionals. And then they engage in supply diversity more on an informal role, because they are passionate about it, and they understand the importance of it. And then you have some organizations who have actually created formal roles, where these individuals are specifically tasked to champion supplier diversity, and they have specific responsibilities and their performance is tracked accordingly. I would say, this type of role is very new, in terms of the supplier diversity initiatives within Canada.
Robyn Fadden – host: How can organizations support the change agents with these new kinds of initiatives?
Patricia Hewlin: Very similar to the diversity programs in general, you have to have the top leaders committed to it. And they need to have resources behind it in terms of money, in terms of the number of people who are going to be part of the initiative, there needs to be change, organizational change processes in place so that people understand the importance of it. And that we can gain some buy-in order to make it happen. It’s not something that’s just going to happen. And we find that in terms of diversity, in general, it takes commitment.
Robyn Fadden – host: It can’t be siloed to one department or one person for that matter.
Patricia Hewlin: It’s an organizational initiative. If it’s siloed into a department, it’s not necessarily an organizational initiative. It needs to be something that everyone knows about in the organization and understands the benefits. As a management scholar, I’m very much interested in the role of the organization. And my research has found that organizations that create an environment for psychological safety will facilitate individuals feeling more inclined to be true to their perspectives, and even sharing mistakes in the workplace.
Patricia Hewlin: If an organization allows for people to identify mistakes, allows for people to share a divergent point of view that’s going to help the work in terms of improving the organization, then, in general, that signals to employees that, okay, this organization is open to difference. With that in mind, employees are more likely to be true to themselves at work. Going back to Dr. Ashleigh Rosette’s work in terms of well, in what ways can I be true to myself that will be risky, even if I’m in an environment that is promoting psychological safety. And so there’s some things that we may not want to compromise in terms of our appearance or in terms of our cultural values. And that’s where employees engage in a juggling act in terms of deciding Well, what do I do? How much do I bring in? And lastly, there may be some cases where employees have their own perception that bringing more of themselves in the workplace will not be beneficial, but that may not necessarily be the case. And so that’s where the individual comes in, comes into a bit more comes into play. Yes, it’s a combination of the individual, as well as the organization. And it even gets more complicated when we think about culture, cross-cultural dynamics, as well.
Robyn Fadden – host: And certain industries will have different perceptions of where authenticity fits in at work, and who gets to be authentic and who doesn’t, who conforms and who doesn’t.
Patricia Hewlin: Frankly, I’ve heard some leaders say to me, “Well, in some ways, it’s just easier for everyone to conform.” And that’s just, we have a standard, whatever it is, but I always say, “Well, isn’t really in the long run, is that really what you want?” And especially from a competitive position, and just human dignity, I’ve just been talking a lot about human dignity lately, to just say that, “Look, people, people are the ones who are making it happen for the organization. So you want to create an environment where people can thrive?” And in the end, we want an organization to learn, and we want organizations to grow. And one of the ways to learn is to receive divergent perspectives—in order to innovate, you want to think differently and come up with better decisions. And so that’s why authenticity is an important component to the conversation of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Robyn Fadden – host: This also relates to how we need to examine cultural contexts, such as a workplace where conformity is the norm or where striving for new ideas is the norm. As you’ve shown, authenticity is both shaped by individuals and their environments. You mentioned that cross-cultural dynamics add to this complexity. I’d like to hear more about the recent research you’ve done about cross-cultural data on middle management in China and elsewhere outside of the westernized world. What originally led you to this topic and what does your research, which includes interviews with managers, illuminate about the westernized approach to authenticity and the individual?
Patricia Hewlin: I took my sabbatical in Singapore. While I was there, I really wanted to challenge my research on facades of conformity and authenticity, in general. And I decided to take advantage of that opportunity and to talk to as many leaders and executives as possible throughout Asia. And so that included Singapore, as well as China, Indonesia, as many as I could get to, while I was there, and that was my initial exploratory research in terms of understanding, “Is there a difference in terms of how people define leadership and how people define authenticity.” And I had some really interesting conversations in terms of this westernized approach, which tends to be highly individualistic. And so when we think about authenticity, it’s about being true to myself. And how do I feel about me, versus a more what we would say, in cross-cultural research or more of a collectivist point of view, to say, well, being authentic, is yes, being true to my values, but part of my value system is to create harmony among my collective.
Patricia Hewlin: And there are lots of conversations about the context about relationships, within the conversation around authenticity. And so that’s really what I’m exploring now, and I’m beginning to challenge a bit, how we look at authenticity in terms of a limited lens. Regarding this meme, so, very ego focused, and how authenticity should not be looked at in isolation. It’s highly relational. It’s highly relational because it’s not just about being authentic to myself, but it’s about how am I going to be perceived when I am authentic? And how can I build relationships through my authenticity? And another component, which I think we could all benefit from, in terms of evaluating this concept is: to what degree does my authenticity create a pathway for others to be authentic? And that’s another part of this research as well, creating pathways for others to thrive versus sucking up the space with our own authenticity.
Patricia Hewlin: Finding that balance of creating harmony and doing so not at the expense of one’s personal well-being, I really believe is the conversation that we should have. In my own research, I have found that collectivism in general, is positively related to creating facades of conformity. So if creating a facade is still going to create some emotional exhaustion, then we need to have a conversation about what does harmony look like in terms of being authentic, but at the same time creating a space for others to be authentic. It’s a complex endeavor. But I always say it’s a journey. It’s a journey, not just for the individual, but it’s a journey for the organization.
Robyn Fadden – host: And it’s imperative for the organization to walk the talk on the inside if it’s talking authenticity to its stakeholders and customers.
Patricia Hewlin: That’s exactly that I think we’re going right back, Robyn, to the beginning of this conversation in terms of values, what are the values of the organization? And are these values just values that are on paper? Or on virtually on the website? Are these values actually, are you really living? Or what scholars would say enacted? Are these enacted values, are these aspirational values and that what we aspire to be we say we are, but we’re really aspiring to be that. And I think more than ever, we’re living in a time where those enacted values are being highly, highly scrutinized, particularly when we think about equity, inclusion, diversity, environmental issues, and so on.
Robyn Fadden – host: And as you said, it’s an evolution, these realizations will happen and mistakes will be made, and organization have to embrace that reality too.
Patricia Hewlin: I say to leaders, that it is okay to say, I’m going to make mistakes, I’m aspiring to be in this arena, in terms of my emotional intelligence, and in terms of how I connect to the people in my organization, in terms of our I don’t know, our policies and practices are around equity. Allow yourself to make a mistake here and there – it actually reveals a sense of humanity.
Robyn Fadden – host: As Professor Patricia Hewlin’s research indicates, the complex issue of authenticity in organizations is directly linked to the people within them and the businesses they work with. As more organizations reflect on their employee and executive makeup, their supply chains, and their clients or consumers, they’re recognizing the tremendous value of diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives that reach all those touchpoints where humanity and the bottom line intersect.
Robyn Fadden – host: You’ve been listening to the Delve podcast. Delve is the official thought leadership platform of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. I’m Robyn Fadden, your host for this episode, and our guest was Professor Patricia Hewlin. You can find out more about Delve at, and follow DelveMcGill on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Subscribe to the Delve McGill podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify and other podcasting apps. Thank you for listening.