Beyond Pride Month: Bringing Your Whole Self To Work

At Kubi Kalloo, we offer insights-based planning services to clients, and both the qualitative and quantitative research sides of our business offer us rich insight into people and cultures across the world - and we use these insights to drive brand and business growth. Being able to learn and study what it means to be human in different ways is not only paramount to our work – it is an incredible privilege, and one that I still personally learn from every day. Perhaps, as a result, it is not surprising that our industry attracts open-minded individuals, and that is something we are proud of, but, equally, makes it difficult to believe stories of systemic discrimination, bias or bullying (overt or covert) in other industries.

Earlier this month, I reflected on the difference between equality and equity during a conversation with the Chartered Management Institute about being a Pride ally year-round, stating that  “the responsibility lies with business leaders to develop a space that addresses these underlying barriers and proactively supports people to bring their whole self to work – which in turn promotes emotional safety and the chance to thrive.” According to Professor of Organisational Behaviour William A Kahn, “people need both self-expression and self-employment in their work lives as a matter of course” (1990).  We want to match an individual’s ambition and support them in industry endeavours as they learn to fly, and we strive to make that a collaborative effort. 

But what does that look like, tangibly?  Here are some of the elements that sit behind the culture at Kubi Kalloo:

A culture of openness

I talk about love openly and often (and it probably drives my team nuts), but the point is to drive the conversation to a common ground and the most powerful emotional ground known to humans. Talking about love means we can’t avoid talking about feelings, and many emotions that create dissonance in the workplace stem from these feelings of doubt, anger, frustration, hurt, etc.. I don’t encourage ‘airing your relationship woes’ at work, but I do try to encourage an understanding of the importance of love and compassion to others - and to ourselves - as a key source of both vulnerability and power. It fuels us and is a much higher order conversation than sexual identity or preference. It invites individuals to talk about their feelings in a typical setting - for example, perhaps a lack of understanding their role, feelings of anxiety or stress, and mental health related conversations. Openness and owning our own feelings is, in my opinion, the right place to start. So, if someone is feeling uncomfortable in any way because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, this will not seem such a major hurdle to discuss. 

A non-sexual culture

That sounds rather obvious – after all, why would people talk about sex at work, right? Well, in my experience, they do, and for young adults in a thriving metropolis, it can seem entirely natural… until you look at the issues it creates. Sexual conversations, innuendos, jokes or comments about others create a culture where this is deemed ‘okay’, and this can make many around us uncomfortable (even when a person is joking about themselves and their ‘hot’ weekend visiting gay bars). This can often be driven by the need to be heard and accepted and can encourage the reinforcement of existing stereotypes held by others. It may not be, but why guess? The risk of endorsing barriers to openness and everyone feeling comfortable is too high and there is no real need or benefit to conversations or behaviours around sex in the workplace unless they take place on equal terms (i.e. in a social context between friends who happen to be colleagues). This is not the same as discouraging people to talk about their partners/relationships, just to avoid conversations that reinforce cognitive biases which tend to be more around sex, gender, ethnicity and religion.

A culture of respect

Respect comes from recognising and leveraging our differences.  In the work that we do, we champion diverse lenses as the best approach to driving brand and innovation growth with our clients, for instance, and this means we need to recognise the super-powers that lie within each of us (as well, obviously, at knowing how best to bring them together!).  This means not being afraid of different opinions or perspectives, but knowing how to listen and blend their best elements.  It’s the same with how we endorse working with one another.  This translates into how we approach working relationships at Kubi Kalloo. We have adopted the  DISC model to provoke an awareness and a respect for one another’s behavioural profiles, to consider their daily ‘rhythm’ (do they prefer to work alone early mornings, then be social later in the day, or are they a natural night-owl, for instance), know their pressure points (what causes anxiety; personal or home life juggles, etc.), and understand how people’s culture and beliefs affect their daily lives. Each of these elements helps us understand how best to work with one another and as a team. 

Of equal importance, our culture supports us in seeing these elements in others outside of our company – our clients, our competitors, suppliers, partners,  people applying for roles with us, etc.  I raise this as the most important foundation of respect because, whilst it isn’t directly about being gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans… it is about recognising the entirety of an individual in a more holistic way and feeling comfortable knowing how to flex one’s own individuality to bring out their super-powers.

- Kristin Hickey, Founder and CEO, Kubi Kalloo

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