When we talk about bringing our true self to work, what exactly do we mean? This question kicked off the recent MM+M Racial Equity Summit’s opening session, “Showing up as your true self at work.” The summit comprised four panels created to address the recent incidents of white privilege and police brutality against BIPOC individuals and sought to answer questions around the role of business in leading change.

Moderated by Steve Madden, VP and GM of Haymarket Business Media Group and editor-in-chief of MM+M, the opening conversation included Wallye Holloway, associate managing partner, TBWA\WorldHealth; Jeremy Livingston, product director, Xarelto digital marketing, Johnson & Johnson; and Julia Missaggia, VP, people and culture, CMI Media Group and Compas.

“We talk a lot in our industry about being our true, authentic selves as it relates to the work we put out into the world,” explained Holloway. “But I think that starts with making sure the people sitting around the table in our conference rooms, ideating every single day on behalf of our brands and our clients, are able to be authentic.”

“Bringing your true self to work means you don’t have to hide or diminish any part of yourself that enables your unique perspective,” said Missaggia. “We ourselves are caregivers and patients, and if we don’t allow that aspect of who we are to show through, we’re never going to get there for our clients or for each other.”

Livingston agreed, adding, “We are all trying to figure out how to be more relevant to our end users, which means we need to have the best and brightest bringing their full, authentic selves to work so the decisions we make as businesses are not just black and white.”

For pharma and healthcare organizations wondering how and why marketing can spur essential change, Holloway offered up the fact that her clients are demanding it and that it’s also good for productivity. 

“Culture becomes a huge aspect of this, because how we behave, how we treat one another and the values that we bring help us live that piece of authenticity every single day,” added Missaggia. 

As for what’s at risk if we’re not allowing employees to bring their true selves to work?

“We are solving life or death problems and trying to come up with solutions,” said Livingston. “If we, as companies, brands and agencies are unable to retain our top talent because the culture isn’t supporting authenticity, our end users may suffer.”

Madden asked the panelists to explain the difference between not being allowed to be your true self and not being a good fit as an employee.

“The difference is fit versus culture,” posited Missaggia.An employee shouldn’t have to feel like they need to fit into a box, but rather be able to question what they can contribute to make that culture even richer.”

“An individual’s decision about where they work should be based on things like, ‘Does it fit with my own values?’ versus ‘Do I feel like this is an organization where I can show up authentically?’” explained Holloway. “It starts with an organization setting their values, then deliberately shaping a corporate culture around how they want people to contribute and treat each other.”

These excerpts were just the tip of the iceberg of this motivating conversation that all agreed could have lasted double, even triple the amount of allotted time. Madden closed the session out with a question submitted by a listener, who asked if pharma and healthcare companies were directing their ad agencies to include multicultural elements in their campaigns.

“The answer is ‘yes,’” said Holloway. “The agency and pharma side of the industry are really leaning in and asking what more can be done and focusing on how that makes the work better. I’m heartened that our clients are thinking in that way, too.”

Livingston concurred, saying, “This is an area where pharma is gripping hold of the opportunity not just with talent and in creative campaigns, but in the insights. Insights are a universal truth not tied to one specific demographic or one specific minority group. Gone are the days where you’re trying to get your African-American, Caucasian and Asian-American person to represent a campaign. It’s really, how do you show America in everything you’re doing?”

The session concluded with a perfect bookend provided by Missaggia. 

“This all happens by going back to the original idea we discussed about culture, about being able to show up as your true self at work,” she explained. “We all come to the table with differing opinions and viewpoints on how to get things done … how do we make sure we’re allowing the space to be the most impactful?”