Website Banner Blog   2024 02 27 T091237

BHM: The Impact of Code-Switching on Authentic Workplaces

Back to Blogs
Blog Img

BHM: The Impact of Code-Switching on Authentic Workplaces

Do you ever find yourself switching up the way you speak in different social contexts? Perhaps you change your mannerisms, vocabulary, or even the intonation of your voice – it’s known as code-switching, a sociolinguistic phenomenon that’s attracted lots of attention in recent years.  

Why does it matter? What’s it for? And (according to a survey from Indeed) why do Black employees do it at nearly three times the rate of their white colleagues?

The History

Coined in the 1950s by Einar Haugen, code-switching was used to describe people’s ability to swap between languages and dialects in conversation, although the term has acquired a new meaning in recent years. Code-switching is also used to refer to when people from marginalized backgrounds disguise their identities to fit in with the dominant culture.

It’s perhaps most commonly recognized in the modern US workplace, where Indeed’s data suggests that nearly half of Black employees see code-switching as essential at work.

The Affects

While code-switching has its benefits, (adaptable communication, earning social favor of dominant groups, unlocking access to career opportunities, etc.), working behind a façade can be a double-edged sword.

Whether it’s conscious or not, the psychological ramifications of code-switching can take their toll over time.

It can leave people feeling as though their true self isn’t good enough, or like they need to pretend to be someone else to compete on a level playing field.

A truly inclusive workplace recognizes and supports the unique needs of a diverse population, and typically, that involves allowing space for people to be authentic. And speaking of authenticity…

Authenticity at Work

Gen Z, according to research from EY, values authenticity above all other facets of the workplace experience. Why then, is code-switching still seen as an essential means of career progression? The younger generations may have less time for it, but it doesn’t mean it’s going away any time soon.

Whether it’s avoiding African American Vernacular English (AKA, Ebonics, a term that still carries a negative connotation) or avoiding natural hairstyles to better ‘fit’ a typically white corporate agenda, code-switching takes many forms. As a result, it’s deeply ingrained into today’s workplace, and for many, it’s second nature.

In a systematically inequitable society, this behavior is often a crucial protection mechanism. It’s therefore reinforced, and it tends to perpetuate inequities by preserving the dominant white culture. This materializes in many different ways too – read into hair-based discrimination for some more insight into the preservation of Eurocentric Professionalism.

Creating Space for Diversity

With diversity and inclusion in the corporate spotlight for 2024, plenty of businesses are feeling the pressure to make (long overdue) changes. Whether that’s regulatory pressure or an overarching need to modernize, today’s leaders won’t get far with an outdated, homogenized, non-inclusive brand value proposition.

Everyone should feel safe to speak up in their real voice without the fear of criticism. Black employees should be psychologically safe at work, and it’s the responsibility of leadership to create the kind of environment that fosters this sense of true belonging.

How do we do it? By ensuring that businesses use inclusive communication, backed up by supportive policies and consistent training.

Whether it’s your dress code, your unconscious bias training, your employee engagement groups, or your representation at the senior leadership level, building an inclusive culture requires an active approach.

Teams with a high sense of belonging are known to perform better than those without. The many benefits of belonging are too potent to ignore, particularly at a time when authenticity is rising to the top of the employee priority list. The burden of code-switching, while it has its benefits, is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

We know that behavioral change and transformation are tough – it’s what makes meaningful growth so hard to come by. If you need support with your company culture but don’t know where to start, contact the Trinnovo Consulting team here: