The importance of openness in the workplace
Alumnae share their professional experiences and encourage others to be more forthcoming about their identities at work.
Though it can be daunting to share more of one’s life with colleagues, it’s an important part of personal development, building connections with colleagues, and providing feedback to fellow employees. This was the consensus of a panel of female alumni from Saïd Business School gathered at Google in New York to share their professional experiences and encourage others to be more forthcoming about their full identities at work.
Amy Young, director of people operations and national sales coach at Princeton Mortgage and founder and CEO of Redefine Possibility, Maria Wang-Faulkner, who leads product partnerships for the Google Assistant, and Janet Dawson, relationship manager for the Americas and global head of funds and financial markets at Westpac Banking Corporation participated in the panel, which was moderated by Alli Martucci, Strategic Partnerships Lead for Broadcast Media and Entertainment.
For Wang-Faulkner, bringing her “entire self” to work means being transparent about her passions outside her day job, and giving herself ample time to pursue side projects. 'I choose not to work 12 hour days. Could it hurt my career? Maybe, but it makes me a better employee during the eight hours that I am at work,' she said. She also identified some areas where she struggles to be more open. As a parent, she finds it hard to convey to non-parent co-workers the challenges of securing childcare, for example.
Dawson echoed Wang-Faulkner’s concerns, pointing out that at traditional, large organisations, 'employees are encouraged to keep quiet about their private lives, and many don’t want to share much because they want colleagues to think they’re perfect,' she said. Having been at her company for over thirty years, she’s no stranger to this phenomenon, she explained.
But despite the difficulty, being more open about personal life at work and vice versa is beneficial in a number of ways. Young, for example, was able to secure a new client by discussing her new company with a fellow parent at school pick-up. 'There’s no way to separate yourself into two different people—one professional, one private. These personas blend into each other, and that can be powerful.' Young said. In fact, bringing the full self to work, including the emotions and feelings of empathy that come with it, plays a critical role in many aspects of business and management, such as delivering and receiving feedback, Wang-Faulkner said.
Wang-Faulkner recently led a workshop on “Radical Candor,” a methodology for delivering feedback with care, introduced by former Googler Kim Scott in a book by the same name. According to the methodology, managers must strike a critical balance when providing feedback to their direct reports, applying care and compassion, while being constructively critical and honest. 'Radical candor means that you can bring humanity to work and be a great boss as a result. Challenging people and showing them that you care doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive,' she explained.
The 'full self' is a stronger self
As workers become better about bringing more of themselves to the office, they’ll likely find themselves not only improving their own confidence, but also making a difference in the culture at large. When audience members asked for advice on earning respect in the workplace, or getting their voice heard, the panelists urged them to own their unique experiences and use them to their advantage.
One attendee shared that she was worried about being too young to be taken seriously by investors or business partners, and Dawson encouraged her to turn her story around. 'You should say your age with pride. You’re in your early 20's and you have ten years of experience running a business. Not many other people can say that,' she said.
When another expressed that she hasn’t been taken seriously in a new role because she started as a more entry-level worker, Young told her to shift the focus to her growth, not her former role. 'You’ve had the unique experience of working at various levels of the organisation. That gives you a unique perspective that others don’t have,' she said.
The panel discussion also wouldn’t be complete without the alumnae fondly looking back to their time at Oxford to reflect on how their experiences shaped their current careers. The women attended Oxford Saïd at different phases of their lives and were on different programmes (Wang-Faulkner attended the High Performer Leadership Programme, Dawson pursued an Executive MBA, and Young participated in the Women Transforming Leadership Programme), but all three agreed the experience was life changing. 'I was blown away by the curriculum, but more importantly, the programme gave me time to be introspective about my own career and role,' Young said. 'The network you build and the experience you have is just extraordinary,' Dawson agreed.