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blogs / 14 APR 2021

Redefining Professionalism to Foster Inclusion

Jocelyn Tiner

redefining professionalism

Appearance, demeanor, poise, use of proper grammar—these are all aspects of what is generally considered “professional” behavior in the workplace. In many industries, sharing religious or political perspectives are off limits, and in workplaces across the globe, women continue to feel as though they should not divulge too much information about their parental responsibilities to their coworkers. From where do these nuances of “professionalism” originate? Who decides what behaviors and qualities are considered “professional”? And is it possible that part of the definition we have become accustomed to is one where “unprofessional” actually means “behaviors and appearances that make me uncomfortable”?  

As we learn more about unconscious biases and the concept of covering—where, in an effort to conform to accepted norms of a given workplace, employees feel the need to hide aspects of themselves from their coworkers—it is important to address which environmental factors are working against us as we attempt to foster more inclusive workspaces. One such factor in company culture is our definition of “professional” behavior and to what extent it includes an individual’s physical appearance, speech patterns, and mannerisms.

Redefining Professionalism Foster Inclusion Primary Image

Diversity and Inclusion Are Not Mutually Exclusive 

It is possible to achieve a diverse representation in our organizations without fostering an environment where employees feel a sense of belonging; however, feeling safe, accepted, and valued as our authentic selves is a vital aspect of inclusion.

Being Your Authentic Self at Work May Help Others to Challenge Their Own Unconscious Biases 

The familiarity principle, or mere exposure effect, states that we have a preference for things with which we are familiar and that our preference increases with exposure. Several publications encourage us to fight this tendency in an effort to challenge our unconscious biases, because this principle typically indicates that we have developed a preference for “those who are like us.” What would happen if we leaned into it instead? By creating an environment where individuals are encouraged to be their authentic selves every day, we can create repeated exposure to mannerisms, cultural norms, and physical and neuroatypical traits that are different from our own and develop a preference for a wider range of qualities over time.

Your Leadership Challenge 

Your leadership challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to redefine what it means to be “professional.” Create a definition that is in line with your company culture and values. Consider whether any aspects of your current definition are inherently biased against anyone in your organization. For example: 

  • Are emails from employees who write in a second language considered “unprofessional” because they lack a firm grasp on formal grammar? 

  • Does your professional dress code encourage people to hide cultural aspects of themselves? 

  • Are employees encouraged to speak up when they misunderstand or make a mistake and are they penalized when they do?

An Inclusive Space 

An inclusive space is one where participants are fully present as themselves. We speak freely without fear of being misunderstood or judged. We share our successes and our struggles. We are accepted and valued and embrace others for who they are, even when we don’t personally understand or empathize with them. Inclusivity encourages mutual respect. We each have the opportunity to encourage those behaviors at work. To revisit a question from the beginning of this post: who decides what behaviors and qualities are considered “professional”? We do. 

Challenge accepted.

Our parent company, Realogy, is dedicated to fostering inclusivity and has launched a Real Estate Expert series with thought leaders to share relevant industry insights. The most recent event featured a discussion on growth through diversity, equity, and inclusion. Watch the replay.

Headshot of Blog Author Jocelyn Tiner

Jocelyn Tiner

Jocelyn Tiner is an Executive Assistant in Global Talent Mobility. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work and is an active member of the Cartus Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Realogy Women’s ERG.