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ATD Blog

Is Authenticity in the Workplace Always a Good Thing?

Friday, April 2, 2021

In this four-part blog series, thought leaders Rita Bailey, Elaine Biech, and Tonya Wilson offer advice for how to drive DE&I initiatives forward within your organization. You can find the first three blog posts on ATD’s DE&I resources page here.

People have different perspectives about the definition of authenticity. Often, authenticity is related to belonging. An organization can be inclusive, but people may still feel like they don’t belong because they can’t authentically be who they are. For example, a single mom may feel like the men on her team can’t relate to the fact that she is giving 100 percent at work then goes home and gives 100 percent to her family. She may feel like she can’t come into work and talk about her sick child or leave to take care of that child without it being viewed negatively. She feels like she can’t be her authentic self at work.

At its core, authenticity is about the ability to come to work and be comfortable expressing who you are without having to put on a corporate face and use corporate language just to survive.


There are extremists in every category who will take things to the limit. Some people may go too far when it comes to bringing their political views or outside activities into the workplace. When that happens, it’s important to refer back to company policy and what is tolerated and acceptable within an organization. Having cultural norms and a specific definition around what is and is not acceptable behavior is necessary.

Authenticity is acceptable as long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ authenticity. People shouldn’t use their authenticity as a means of being rude, uncivil, or abusive in any way. Everyone needs to bring their best to the table, so we don’t want someone’s expression of authenticity to create a psychologically unsafe environment. We can’t allow people to infringe on those boundaries and create unsafe environments. That would be unproductive and could even cause legal consequences and other liabilities for an organization. We should honor each other’s boundaries and understand that being prohibited from doing something that creates fear for someone else is not a violation of your authenticity.

About the Author

As CEO and Founder of QVF Partners, Rita partners with organizations and individuals who want to transform ordinary work environments into high-performing, profitable cultures. She shares her expertise and resources to help create workplaces where enlightened leaders can leverage the strengths and diversity of their people as a competitive advantage. During her 25 year career at Southwest Airlines, Rita served in several roles including customer service, sales, marketing, public relations, and HR. In her last position she was director of the Southwest Airlines University for People. She was responsible for the design, development, and implementation of leadership and personal development programs for over 32,000 employees. She also established a career development services team, responsible for helping employees develop a career path. Rita has served on several advisory committees and boards and was a member of the ASTD Board of Directors, serving as chairwoman of the ASTD Board in 2005. She is often quoted in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Corporate Meetings and Incentives, and The Wall Street Journal on topics of recruiting and training practices. Rita is the co-author of the new book, Destination Profit: Creating People-Profit Opportunities in Your Organization. As an international speaker and consultant, she has presented to and worked with groups in Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, and Japan on topics including organizational culture, people strategies, leadership, innovation, customer service, and branding. When asked what business she is in, the answer is simply "the people business."

About the Author

Elaine Biech, president of ebb associates inc, a strategic implementation, leadership development, and experiential learning consulting firm, has been in the field for 30 years helping organizations work through large-scale change. She has presented at dozens of national and international conferences and has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Management Update, Investors Business Daily, and Fortune Magazine. She is the author and editor of over 50 books, including the ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals, ASTD Leadership Handbook, 10 Steps to Successful Training, The Ultimate Trainer, Thriving Through Change, The Business of Consulting, 2nd ed., and Training for Dummies. A long time volunteer for ASTD, she has served on ASTD's National Board of Directors, was the recipient of the 1992 ASTD Torch Award, the 2004 ASTD Volunteer Staff Partnership Award, and the 2006 Gordon Bliss Memorial Award. Elaine was instrumental in compiling the CPLP study guides and has designed five ASTD Certificate Programs. In addition to her work with ATD, she has served on the Independent Consultants Association's (ICA) Advisory Committee and on the Instructional Systems Association (ISA) board of directors.

About the Author

Tonya Wilson, a business leader with expertise in organizational effectiveness, who connects people to strategy and creates capacity through change enablement. Her business background in operations, contracts, and supply chain brings a unique perspective to her clients. She has worked in manufacturing, aerospace, telecom, government markets, and healthcare. Tonya has been in leadership at McKesson, Change Healthcare, Meggitt, and AT&T.

She has worked with leaders to drive alignment between business and people strategies, developed learning strategies to help build employee capabilities, and partnered with executive leaders on change management initiatives, strategic action planning, Lean Six Sigma, leadership development, organizational design, and organizational health assessments.

Tonya holds certificates and certifications in organization design, organizational development, change management, Bridges Transition leadership, Communication IQ, Predictive Index, Zenger Folkman 360, and Korn Ferry Leadership Architecture. She has an HR certificate from SHRM and her CPM. Tonya is currently pursuing a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology.

Her personal mission statement is “Setting you up to win,” which is what she has done as an internal and external consultant for more than 20 years, helping leaders with changes in sales, operations, supply chain, finance, programs, HR, IT, and contracts.

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