Why Authentic Leadership Must be Part of Your DEI Strategy as We Start to Return to In-Person Work

Ritu Bhasin presenting

Lately there’s been more and more talk about the world opening up, with many workplaces starting to make plans for a return to in-person work or, more likely, some form of hybrid work environment this fall. Although there is plenty of excitement around “getting back to normal”, after over a year of working remotely during the pandemic, the prospect of returning to the workplace is feeling daunting for many.

Employees have been expressing numerous reasons for not wanting to return to in-person working: preferring the more casual nature of working from home, not having to adhere to a strict dress code, enjoying the increased productivity that comes with fewer workplace distractions and appreciating the flexibility working remotely offers caregivers. And one of the major factors that we’ve been hearing is a strong desire to maintain the spirit of authenticity that has been created and nurtured in many workplaces as a result of being able to work from home.

As you may know, at bci we’re vocal advocates for authenticity as the foundational building block for cultivating inclusion. By authenticity, I’m referring to the consistent practice of choosing to know, embrace and be who you are — especially what makes you different and unique — as often as possible, so that you feel better about yourself, you bring this spirit to your interactions and, in so doing, you invite others to do the same.

In my book The Authenticity Principle, I emphasize that authentic leadership — leadership that is rooted in authenticity — is fundamental for normalizing differences, unlocking experiences of belonging, addressing attrition and moral issues and creating cultures of empowerment, innovation and creativity. Authenticity is critical for leadership; employees are more likely to experience higher levels of workplace wellbeing, to feel more engaged, satisfied and empowered and to develop more trusting relationships with leaders who are authentic. (And of course, all of this grows profitability too.)

If there has ever been a moment of validation for the critical importance of authenticity, it is now. In the thick of the pandemic and the racial injustice crisis that shone a critical spotlight on anti-Black racism, we made great strides in cultivating authenticity in the workplace, with team members and leaders alike opening up about the myriad inclusion challenges they were facing, from heightened bias to diminished mental health and more.

The extent to which your team members will continue to feel comfortable talking about their inclusion challenges or about racial injustice in person directly ties back to whether authenticity is woven into the fabric of your organizational culture. To put this another way, it’s imperative that you create an organizational culture where everyone feels safe to speak, share and be who they are — whether your team is continuing to work remotely, returning to work in-person or transitioning into a hybrid of the two.

To make this happen, leaders must embrace authenticity in how they work and lead in order to address inclusion challenges and inequities and create inclusive workplace norms. As a leader who wants to foster authenticity at work, there are many things you can do, from learning more about authentic leadership (download bci’s free Tip Sheet here) to providing opportunities for training to mastering the principles of authentic living.

I have numerous videos and blogs on how to live, work and lead more authentically at ritubhasin.com, including free self-reflection worksheets on understanding your Authentic Self , Performing Self and Adapted Self and you can also download bci’s Tip Sheet on Authentic Leadership here.

As the world opens up, it’s so important that we continue to prioritize authenticity as part of our DEI efforts. By anchoring to authenticity, we have a unique opportunity to course correct how we were working before and create workplaces that are happier, healthier and more productive, successful and inclusive.

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Dr. Komal Bhasin

Dr. Komal Bhasin, MSW, MHSc, DocSocSci, is bci’s Senior DEI Consultant and Mental Health Expert-in-Residence and an accomplished DEI facilitator, coach and strategist. Komal has over 20 years of experience in providing strategic and advisory guidance and program development across a range of sectors, with a particular concentration in mental health and racial inclusion. Komal is also Founder of Insayva Inc., a social enterprise focused on providing accessible DEI and health equity support to charities and non-profit organizations.

Komal has extensive experience in creating and delivering programming in a range of DEI areas, including unconscious bias, cultural competence, mental health inclusion, psychological safety and allyship. She is passionate about driving transformational change in workplaces and has worked closely with bci clients — corporations, professional services firms, health care providers and educational institutions — to embed cultures of DEI within their organizations.

Komal has provided one-on-one inclusion coaching to hundreds of senior leaders and brings a unique approach that is informed by her background as a therapist. She is able to expertly handle sensitive conversations and situations and works with leaders to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to advance racial/ethnocultural, gender and mental health-related equity across teams and organizations. Komal also offers a performance coaching program designed specifically for BIPOC leaders. This program aims to help BIPOC leaders harness their place, position and identity to thrive in the workplace and beyond. Komal is a qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

As bci’s Mental Health Expert-in-Residence, Komal offers tremendous expertise around workplace mental health. As a doctoral trained mental health clinician, certified health executive and registered social worker, Komal has assisted organizations looking to advance employee mental health inclusion and well-being through offering programming on inclusive dialogue, anti-stigma, burnout prevention, psychological safety, resilience and self-care. Komal is committed to advancing mental health and wellness across the life course; she currently serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario and previously served on the board of Children’s Mental Health Ontario and the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

When Komal is not working, you’ll find her painting, cooking or snuggling with her cats.

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