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Code-Switching at Work: What It Is and Why You Need to ...

Code-Switching at Work: What It Is and Why You Need to ...

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What is Code-Switching and How Does it Impact Inclusion in the Workplace?

Code-switching, language, and behaviors are integral components of contextual identity and adaptability. In the professional world, it is crucial to consider cultural norms and members of minority populations whose behavior may not align with the majority. Discrimination and tolerance must be taken into consideration to create an atmosphere of acceptance where everyone feels welcome and can express their true selves.

Have you ever noticed a shift in your manner of speaking when on the phone? Does your behavior naturally relax when you hear the voice of the person on the other side? Not surprisingly, all of us present ourselves differently in different settings - with colleagues, friends, and family. This shift is referred to as code-switching and, for people of color, it can be a matter of survival. If your organization is unaware of this phenomenon, it may be having a detrimental effect on mental security.

What is Code-Switching?

The term 'code-switching' was initially observed as a linguistic phenomenon. Sociologists studied the factors that caused people with two languages to shift between their native language and the language of the dominant community. It was later discovered that code-switching could also occur within populations where everyone spoke the same language. This concept extended to include behavioral changes such as adjustments in mannerisms, tone of voice, or switching between standard English and an informal verbal style.

Code-switching is any form of modification in language, syntax, grammatical structure, behavior, or appearance that an individual (consciously or unconsciously) adopts in order to adapt to the dominant culture. We all desire to fit in to some extent, making decisions that make us more 'acceptable' to the groups we associate with. This is an essential part of our contextual identity.

However, when our contextual identities contradict our true identity, it can be incredibly difficult. This is especially true for members of minority communities. If the mainstream culture is different from one's own, they may feel that their 'natural' selves are unprofessional, undesirable, or unwelcome.

Examples of Code-Switching

  • A Latina woman prepares for an interview. She chooses an outfit and does her hair, but decides not to get her nails professionally done before the interview, even though she usually takes pride in her appearance, as she does not want to appear 'ghetto' or 'cheap' by painting her long nails.
  • A white man from the Midwest decides to go by his middle name instead of his full name when he moves to the East Coast, worried that his full name might make him sound 'like a redneck.'
  • A Black man works in an upscale clothing store. Known for his loud voice and lively personality, he adopts effeminate mannerisms to appear non-threatening to the store's largely white customers.

Why Do People Code-Switch?

Before exploring the motivations that drive code-switching, it is worth remembering that not all code-switching is deliberate or intentional. The intensity of the need to fit in affects the psychological impact that code-switching has. Below are some of the most common causes:

  • Fear of confirming stereotypes: The most frequent conscious reason for code-switching is to prevent validating negative stereotypes about one�s group or to draw unwanted attention. This is also the most damaging kind of code-switching, as it makes the affected individual feel as if their true selves are not acceptable. The harm does not come from the shift in behavior but from the pressure to maintain a false self.

The Reality of Code-Switching in the Workplace

For members of marginalized communities, code-switching is often a means of survival. People from diverse backgrounds are put in the difficult position of attempting to balance fitting in with the dominant culture and staying true to their own culture. This skillful juggling act of 'code-switching' can be intentional or unconscious, and sometimes involves code-mixing, when someone uses elements of two different languages or cultures. Unfortunately, when code-switching is not effectively managed, it can have a drastic impact on psychological safety and the atmosphere of inclusion in the workplace.

The Causes of Code-Switching

  • Lack of representation: It is often a natural human inclination to strive to fit in which is why a lack of representation in the workplace can lead to an atmosphere of code-switching for members of underrepresented groups.
  • Attempt to get something: Another common cause for code-switching is trying to gain something that is not accessible if the individual does not properly adapt to the dominating social group.

Much like in high school, people try to strike the perfect balance between fitting in and standing out to progress. For people from underrepresented backgrounds, this can feel like trying to elude their cultural identity.

The Potential Implications of Code-Switching

Code-switching can have wide-reaching impacts in the workplace, especially for those from underrepresented populations. It is important to be aware of the ways it can be both consciously and unconsciously employed and the implications it can have on an individual's psychological safety and the overall atmosphere of inclusion.

Eliminating The Need To Code-Switch

As a leader, it is essential to strive for an understanding of how code-switching affects your employees, both current and potential, in order to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable being their true selves. Here are some ways to help reduce the impact of code-switching:

  • Employee resource groups (ERGs): ERGs can provide a welcoming space for conversation, as well as opportunities for professional advancement.
  • Centering diverse leaders: Connecting with leaders who are genuinely inclusive and accept everyone's 'whole selves' can show employees that success is possible without compromising their values.
  • Diluting the dominant culture: Making an effort to emphasize diversity in both overt and subtle ways, such as offering educational opportunities, inviting people in to speak, and continuing to develop your team, can help to reduce the oppressive nature of the dominant culture.
  • Continual education: By educating yourself and your team on the effects of code-switching, you can be better able to recognize and mitigate situations where people feel the need to suppress their cultural identity.

The Hidden Work at Work

Understanding the need for employees to fit in within the workplace environment requires an extraordinarily high level of cultural humility. This can be seen as an additional burden, which can act as a barrier to employees showing their true selves while at work. It takes an effort and a great level of awareness to understand this.

Why Merit Increases Pay Dividends for Keeping Top-Performing Employees

Merit increases are an essential part of employee satisfaction and motivation. Offering employees rewards and growth opportunities based on performance is a great way to show them you value their work and helps to keep them feeling engaged and motivated.

The Importance of Merit Increases for Your Organization

Employees need to be able to reach their goals, and one way of doing this is through merit increases. Understanding why your organization should consider merit increases and how it could benefit the business can help make sure employees are both motivated and successful.

World Health Organization Recognizes Burnout as an "Occupational Phenomenon"

Burnout not only affects employees psychologically, but also physically. Because of this, it is important for businesses to find ways to help exhausted-engaged employees. This could be through providing extra resources, or making sure employees have adequate breaks. By doing this, organizations can help their employees stay productive and successful.

What is a Labor Shortage?

When the total number of people available for work in a given labor market cannot meet the demand, this is known as a labor shortage. This can have a number of impacts on businesses, such as increased competition for staff, rising wages, staffing shortages and more pressure being put on existing employees. Understanding labor shortages can help businesses make sure their operation is running smoothly.

The Impact of Dominant Culture in the Workplace

Dominant culture is a set of values shared among a group of people. This can impact how minorities are treated in the workplace, as dominant culture may be used as the 'norm' to judge them by. To prevent this, it is important to think about power dynamics and the role that language plays in forming attitudes and opinions.

Gender Pronouns: Why Language Matters

Gender pronouns are used to refer to someone and should be chosen by the individual. Showing respect and recognition for an individual's identity is important, but using the incorrect gender pronouns can cause hurt and disrespect. To create an inclusive workplace, it is important to use gender-neutral language and to be aware of how language can change depending on context.

Having Courageous Conversations in the Workplace

To have courageous conversations, it is important to be open-minded, honest and sincere, and to have difficult conversations around topics such as power dynamics and diversity. Doing this can help create an environment where all employees feel included, respected and valued.

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