Your Guide to Thriving Authentically in the Workplace

In this episode, I spoke to author, speaker and executive coach Carice Anderson. Carice specialises in supporting Black professionals to get ahead in their corporate careers whilst also increasing their enjoyment and impact.

Today’s guest is Carice Anderson, who is the author of a great book called ‘Intelligence isn’t Enough, a Black Professionals Guide to Thriving in the Workplace’. I first came across Carice when I found out about her book and I knew I had to get her onto the show because there’s so much wisdom in her book that I’m just dying to dive into, as well as to find out more about her experiences and her advice on how to build your confidence.

We began with Carice introducing herself and telling me a bit more about her background and work.

‘My mission is to democratise access to unwritten rules of success in high-performing environments. That is the motivation behind why I wrote my book. I’m excited about trying to empower professionals to be able to know themselves better, build better relationships, and to ultimately have more fun and more impact at work.

From a professional standpoint, I’ve worked at Arthur Anderson, which was one of the big five accounting firms, along with PWC, Deloitte, KPMG, and E and Y. I also worked at Deloitte, McKinsey and Company and I worked at Korn Ferry. Now I work as a director in leadership and manager development for an asset management firm. Personally, I’m married to my amazing husband, Fungayi, we’ve been married for twelve years. I love chocolate, laughter, travelling, and mangoes. From a personal perspective, I love going to the spa too, so if anybody ever needs a spa partner, I’m your girl.’

When Carice and I were talking before recording this session we figured our paths have potentially crossed in so many places. My first job out of university was with Accenture, which was an Anderson spin-off back in the day. We’ve both worked for Deloitte, although Carice worked for Deloitte in the US and I worked for the UK firm. We’ve worked for some similar organisations. I also like chocolate, and mango-flavoured chocolate could be an interesting combination. Don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before.

Anyhow, in Carice’s book, she talks about three concepts: the continuum of authenticity, working in versus working on your career, and working in versus working on your relationship. We started by going through these three terms that Carice has coined; first up I asked, ‘How does authenticity work?’

‘I have heard a lot of young professionals say, Well, either I’m a hundred percent real or I’m a hundred percent fake” which made me start reflecting on, “What is authenticity?” I honestly believe that it exists on a spectrum or a continuum, which is why I coined the phrase: the continuum of authenticity. I think your authenticity can go all the way to your most authentic self, where you’re level 10. That’s who I am with my closest family and friends, my husband. I am loud. I’m sarcastic, I’m cracking jokes. I might be speaking in a deep American southern accent that most people cannot understand. I’m not necessarily going to go to work and be that exact same person, so I might be a level seven or an eight. I’m still fun. I’m still cracking jokes. I’m still humorous but I might tone it down a bit because I think it’s important to understand that I don’t believe in authenticity for authenticity’s sake, I think authenticity needs to serve a purpose and it needs to be contextualised based on the audience, the message, and the environment that you’re in. It’s about deciding, “Where do I need to play on that spectrum in order for me to be effective and to have impact?”

I will say this. I think everybody has to decide where they play on that spectrum and how far they’re willing to go or not because some people might say, “Well, Carice, I’m never willing to go below a nine, that’s just my personal limit and boundary.” In which case, I’m like, “Well, that’s fine”. But if you work in an organisation that needs you to be at a five, there’s going to be some tension there. You have to make a decision if you’re going to make adjustments or if you’re going to exit that organisation because you can’t stay and be bitter because the organisation isn’t what you want it to be. Right? You have to decide where you play.

The other thing I say to people is, “If the people that I’m closest to were to come to work and see me at work, would they recognise me?” Would they say, “Okay, that’s Carice, she’s still cracking jokes. She’s still funny. She’s still sarcastic, but she’s toned down a bit.” And vice versa, with the people at work. If they came to hang out with me, with my family and friends, would they recognise me?

I hear especially a lot of black professionals, we talk about being two separate people, and I think that takes too much energy. It’s not sustainable and I don’t think it endears people to us because they can sense that we’re not showing up as our real selves. I don’t think it necessarily serves us either in the long term. I think it serves us in the short term to be what people want us to be, but not in the long term.’

I find what Carice says interesting because a lot of employers want to create an environment where employees can be their authentic self and “bring their whole self to work.” There are two arguments to that, really. One is that we’re creating an environment of psychological safety and trust, so you can bring the bits of you to work that you want to without fear of being judged or called out negatively. But some people I talk to say, “Yes, but I don’t want to bring all of myself to work. There are parts of me that I want to keep private, or I want to keep separate and just keep at home rather than bring into the office.”

I always say to people, “That’s true, but if there’s a part of your work culture which is preventing you from showing parts of yourself that you would really like to display at work, then that’s a problem.” If you can’t talk openly about your relationship status because you’re worried that you’re going to be judged by your colleagues. If you have to change your hairstyle because you feel that going into work with an Afro, you’re going to stick out and that you don’t fit in. That’s the kind of culture that we need to challenge.

Carice agreed wholeheartedly. ‘I have curly hair, and that for me is a boundary. If I went to work for an organisation that said, “Carice, you need to straighten your hair in order to be successful here,” I would know this is not the place for me. I don’t know if I would be able to go on a campaign to change that mindset, unless there was a critical mass of people who also felt the same way and maybe we could rally together to get people to change… but I might have to decide, “This is not the place for me. I have to leave and go somewhere else that is more accepting of who I am.” We all have to do that. We all have to figure out, “What are those boundaries? What are those things that are core to who I am, core to my well-being?”

If you work in a highly relationship-driven organisation, it’s highly collaborative. I think it’s hard for people to trust you when they don’t know anything about you outside of if you’re good at Excel or PowerPoint. I think people have to know something about you in order to be able to trust you. That’s why it’s important that you find those elements of yourself that you can share with other people.
I tell people all the time, “I’m not saying you ought to come to work and share your deepest, darkest traumas but you need to share something.” We need to find some point of connection with people outside of what you do on a daily basis.’

What Carice says reminds me of the work by Patrick Lencioni, who wrote the book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. He had this triangle with about five different dysfunctions. Right at the bottom of the pyramid was “trust,” A dysfunctional team has a lack of trust and people are not able to be vulnerable which means that they’re afraid to make mistakes or they’re afraid to call out mistakes. Highly functional teams have a high degree of trust. For me, Carice is talking about creating that foundational level of trust, when people are being open and vulnerable about who they are and consequently are not afraid to make mistakes.

Carice added, ‘Can I say one other thing on this point? Organisations have to create an environment where they’re safe enough for people to share that vulnerability because it is scary. I think we have to acknowledge it’s scary to share those things about yourself that might not be visible to the world. Organisations have to equip people, managers and team members to create safe spaces, so people are comfortable enough to share some of those things. But everybody’s got to move a little bit. I have got to move off of my discomfort sharing and other people have to create the comfort for me to share. Everybody has a role.’

We then moved onto Carice’s second concept, where she talks about working in versus working on your career. I asked her to tell me more about this concept.

‘I lived in South Africa for ten years, where I ran a small business. In the entrepreneurial world, you often hear certain phrases. One of the phrases was “Working in your business versus working on your business.” So, let’s say, for example, I ran a cupcake shop, working in my business is buying my ingredients, mixing up my cupcakes, delivering my cupcakes to my customers. Working on my business is taking a step back and asking, “Should I even be delivering cupcakes? Should I be selling cookies or scones or biscuits? What are all these other things I should be doing? Am I selling my products to the right people at the right time, right places, right price point?”

I realised the same approach could be used for careers and relationships. I think a lot of times, we’re working in our careers. We’re doing the things we need to do every day at a high level. But I think not enough people, especially people of colour, women and other underrepresented groups, don’t often take a step back and ask, “Am I developing at the right pace? Am I developing the right skills at the right level? Am I building the right relationships with people at the right time?” This is about getting out of the day-to-day busyness and taking that step back.

I think it’s the same thing with our relationships. We work in our relationships. If you are my manager, I’m going to talk to you about the things I need to do and the deadline and the resources and the obstacles, but I also need to take that step back and say, “Toby, how are you doing? How are you coping with everything that’s happening in the world? What’s keeping you up at night? What are your aspirations? What are you trying to achieve? How is what I’m doing connected to what you’re trying to achieve?”

Understanding who people are. The better we work on our relationships, the better we’ll be able to work in those relationships. If I actually care about you as a human, and not just as a worker bee or just as my manager. So that’s the connection between the working in versus working on our careers, and our relationships.’

What Carice says feels strategic. I do quite a lot of coaching of diversity and inclusion leaders, and they often say that it’s a lonely job and that they might be the only person in the business working on diversity and inclusion. They’re not always leaning on an open door with their senior executives, and they get so caught up in the details that just spending an hour with me just helps them stand back and look at the bigger picture. It’s amazing how doing that for an hour a month is so powerful. Just stepping back and going, “What is the bigger picture here? Why am I doing this?” I like how Carice has given the analogy of the cupcake business. People get so caught up in buying the ingredients and baking the cupcakes and running around like a headless chicken, delivering these cupcakes, but actually, the bigger questions are, “Should we even be making cupcakes? Maybe doughnuts would be better. Or why don’t we do this a different way? Why are we doing it this way?” Those big questions can have a bigger impact in the long run, I think.

Carice agreed. ‘Absolutely. I told people that even if they’re in a hybrid environment or one hundred percent remote or in the office, relationships are still being built, sustained and maintained. You just need to figure out, “How do I do that?”

I tell people, “Even if you’re a manager, maybe do this with your direct reports or you do this with your manager. Set up a fifteen-minute tea chat, where we just get on here and we just talk as people. Work is off the table and we just connect as humans for a little while to check in with each other.” I think that’s so important because then when we need to talk about the task and what needs to get done, we have a foundation of a relationship and trust to where we can both communicate more openly and honestly because we know we care about each other as people.’

Another one of the things Carice talks about is the need to meet people where they’re at, not where we think they should be. I asked her how should organisations meet Black professionals where they’re at and not where they think they should be?

‘What I was referring to is that sometimes we look at someone’s CV and we make up in our heads the story of who they are as a person. Take me for example. I went to Harvard Business School. People could think, “Oh, well, she’s a Harvard MBA. Like she’s got it all together.” It’s like, “Yeah, but do you know my story? Do you know that I come from a family where no one worked in the business space?”

I’m the first person in my family to even major in business in university and to work in the corporate space. I had no network. No one that I could lean on. No one that could usher me into this completely new world. And even if you think about the fact, yes, I went to Harvard Business School, but what was my path to Harvard Business School? And what was even my experience while I was there? It potentially was very different from a white male who comes from a wealthier, more well-connected background.

I think taking time to understand people’s stories and how they got to where they are and how they experienced some of the environments that they’ve been in is really, really critical. I had a colleague say to me recently, “How can you help me if you don’t know me?” You can look at me and you think you know my story, and so you craft these interventions or programmes to assist me but you don’t know what my starting point is because you haven’t spoken to me and you haven’t heard what my particular challenges and what my strengths or areas of development are. So, yes, I encourage people to properly understand the background of different groups of people.

I remember when I worked at McKinsey, there was a partner who was there, a white male, and he had grown up quite poor. And I think people probably looked at him and thought, “Well, you’re a white man, I’m sure you had all the advantages in the world, and you’ve grown up wealthy, and I’m sure being in this world is quite easy for you.” But it was the exact opposite for him. It was challenging because he did not come from that background. It’s just about all of us taking the time, working on our relationships. That’s when we get to know the stories of people so that we can really understand how to best help someone take their career and development to that next level.’

Carice is reminding me of one of my diversity and inclusion heroes, Verna Myers, who’s the VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Netflix. She’s an American lawyer by background who has done a couple of great TED talks, one of which is called ‘Leaning into our Biases’. She says that biases are the stories that we make up about people before we get to know them. So, you have to know somebody on a much deeper level and avoid making those assumptions, presumptions or stereotypes that can cloud our judgement.

Carice added, ‘I have to say it’s funny growing up and being an American. Sometimes I hear people talk about African-Americans and I have to remind myself that they’re talking about me, because that’s not my story. I grew up in a two-parent, college-educated family. My parents have master’s degrees. I didn’t grow up in an impoverished background. So, I think people will look at you sometimes and just assume that that’s your story, but it’s not. I think it’s so important for us to know each other.’

I like how Carice talks about mindset in the work she does. I asked if she could talk a bit about how she sees us owning our mindset, our brand, our career relationships and our own development?

‘Well, the framework for my book, and this is the way the chapters in my book are organised, is know yourself, know others, know your environment, integrate the knowledge of those three to build a personal brand and a communication style that allows you to have maximum impact. I’ve got chapters on knowing self, knowing others, knowing your environment, personal branding, and then communication. The reason I thought that it’s so important to start with our own mindset is because we need to think about, “What am I bringing into this space?” Before I ever step foot into this organisation, I have my own stories and traumas and experiences and assumptions and biases, and I need to ask myself, “How is that impacting how I show up?”

This could be the most evolved organisation in the world. I can have the best manager in the world. But if my mindset is flawed, I’m not going to be able to take advantage of all those opportunities that are being presented to me. I think, and the hardest person we’ll ever have to lead is ourselves, it’s not everybody else, it’s us. We can have a hundred percent control over r ourselves. That means we have to think, “What am I bringing into the space?”

The mindset topic is so important to me because I’ve seen similar people in similar situations. You’ll see two smart people get a bad review and you’ll see one person spiral up and end up turning it around, and then one person spirals down. They’re both equally smart, equally capable but it’s all about how they looked at that situation. One person said, “Okay, I’m going to take this feedback, I’m going to own the part that resonates with me, I’m going to engage my stakeholders, I’m going to tell people what I’m doing and what I’m working on, and that’s going to change my situation.”

Then you’ve got other people who go into a victim mindset, “Everybody’s against me. This place was never meant for me. Nobody wanted me to ever be successful here,” and that person spirals down. So, I think once we own how we think about things, then I think we can own the rest of those things that you mentioned. We can own our brand.

I know my story. I know how I got to where I am and the strengths that I bring to the table. I know what I want to be known for, that I own how I show up every day. I own how I communicate. I own my relationships. I own my development, but all in service of me wanting to have that particular brand and wanting to be able to add that value and have that impact. You have to focus on the things I can control and the things I can influence. Because it’s easy, I think, especially as an under-represented group, to get into a mindset of, “Well, the whole world’s screwed up and everything is broken.” Yes, there are systems we definitely need to change, but while those systems are changing, we can work on ourselves.

I think it’s just a much more empowering message for folks when they can do that. I’ll just say one other thing, I think this concept of ownership is that you don’t allow obstacles to get in your way. You find a way. You make a way where it is possible. You own what you can own and control and influence. That’s where your focus is. You ignore the rest of the noise in the world.’

Carice’s way of putting this makes it sound like a far more empowering position to put yourself in. It is the difference between that victim mentality and owning your shit. Those were not Carice’s words, she writes about the victim or victor mindset in the book, but I had to put that in. Carice is also talking about having the self-knowledge to control the bits that you can and not try to control the bits that you can’t.

Since Carice has experience working in both the US and South Africa, I was curious to know what her experience has been when coaching Black professionals around the world?

‘I think there are a couple of common challenges that I see. This goes back to what we were saying earlier about understanding where people come from, how they’ve been socialised and what their culture has taught them. I know in a lot of Black cultures, it’s very hierarchical. You’re told to respect people in authority. You don’t interrupt people who are higher on the org chart than you, where there’s a difference in the power dynamic. But then we come into organisations and we’re expected to challenge people who are senior to us. We’re expected to interrupt people to be able to get our point across, but it goes against how we’ve been socialised and the messages that we’ve gotten from our own culture.

I think what I found generally across Black culture is it is very community focused. It’s much more about we than me. Much more about us than I. When you go into a corporate space and people are telling you, “Well, you need to talk about yourself and you need to talk about your work and you need to brand yourself,” it’s very in opposition to how we’ve been socialised. Even when we talk about personal branding, it feels very me, me, me, me, me.

What I’ve tried to do when I’ve coached Black professionals is to get them to think about it a little bit differently. When we talk about a personal brand, that is literally, “What are the words and emotions that you want to come to mind when somebody says Toby? What space do you want to occupy in people’s heads?”

Personally, I want to be known as somebody who is a strategic thinker, executes at a high quality, on time, within budget. I want to be somebody who delivers impact to my clients, my customers, my internal stakeholders. We have to show up in a way to be able to do that. Brand allows you to better serve the people that you want to have impact for. Do not make branding so much about self, but to make it about the people that you want to serve.

When I say that to Black professionals, it’s more like, “That I can get down with. That resonates with me.” I think it’s just trying to flip some of these things. I also say, “I know you’ve grown up in a culture where you weren’t encouraged to challenge people in authority, but you have permission to do that here, and so you can flex. You’re not being disrespectful in this place; you’re flexing your style. You are style-switching here. And then when you go back home, you flip back to that style that is more appropriate and more accepted in your culture.”

I’m trying to get people to realise they’re not being inauthentic; they’re just being flexible and expanding the tools that are in the toolkit in order to be successful and have impact.’

I love what Carice says about brand. I was talking to a brand strategist once who said that your brand, or an organisation’s brand, is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s those emotions that a brand stirs up. Like you think of something like Apple, compare the emotional attachment that you have with Apple and Apple’s products compared to another tech company like Huawei, for example. Completely different, but it’s about those emotional connections.

Carice also writes in her book about some of the challenges that she faced as the first person in her family to venture into the corporate world. I asked her to tell me more about those experiences.

‘When I went to work at Arthur Anderson, I was the only Black consultant on the whole floor. There were other Black colleagues, but they were in administrative roles. It was a bit of a shock to my system, and it made me wonder, “Well, can I be successful here?”

I think it made me feel like, “Okay, well, I need to represent all Black people, and everything I say needs to be profound and insightful and earth-shattering.” And of course, at 24 years old, I didn’t have many earth-shattering things to say, so what it ended up doing was silencing me because my comments and my insights never met that really ridiculously high bar that I had set for myself. I realised, “I can’t carry the weight of every Black person.” I think the fear was, “If I mess this up, they won’t hire other people.” I put a lot of pressure on myself and it was silencing me. I realised, “I can’t carry that burden.”

That’s definitely an example of where I’ve felt that pressure because I’m Black. It’s something I had to work through and I know a lot of people still struggle with that. I just thought, “You know what? If I’m going to make mistakes, I’m just going to make mistakes but I’m going to do them as myself, and I’m not going to allow this burden to silence me because that’s not why they hired me. They hired me to share what I think.” I think that was helpful to me, to just take a different perspective on it.’

That’s something I can relate to because my first job out of university was with Accenture, a spin-off of Anderson’s. I was the only visibly physically disabled person in the office. Often in my career, I’ve felt like I’ve had to be the spokesperson for every visible disabled person and if I mess up, that somehow that was going to reflect not that I was crap at my job, but because I had a disability, or my minority identity. It’s quite a thing to have to carry. That’s why it’s important to have more diverse workforces, so people don’t feel like they’re the odd one out and you can see other people like you around the place.

Carice agreed. ‘People say, “You have to see it to be it.” It’s really hard when you don’t see people like yourself in positions of leadership, or in positions of power, influence and decision-making. It makes you ask the question, “Well, if nobody else could do it, why am I going to be the one that can?” Representation is critical.’

To bring our conversation to a close, I asked Carice, ‘This is the Inclusive Growth Show, so everybody gets this question. What does inclusive growth mean to you?’

‘When I think about the word inclusive, I go back to this analogy around a party. I’m invited to the party to be a wallflower because nobody’s talking to you, nobody’s dancing with you. Inclusion is that somebody invites me into that environment and wants me to be a part of it.

The belonging, if we take it to the next level, is that I’m part of the team that helps to decide what that party is going to be. I help determine what the theme is, the food we’re going to serve and music we’re going to have. It creates a different level of emotional ownership and attachment to that environment. When I think about inclusive growth, it’s about asking, “How can we all grow ourselves to be able to create that kind of a space for folks?”

I always tell people that just because you are one type of minority or one type of under-represented group, doesn’t mean you understand all of them. I’ve tried to spend a lot of my time trying to understand transgender folks. I’ve watched documentaries and listened to podcasts and follow people on Instagram because I’m like, “I don’t understand that experience, that’s not my lived experience.”

I think it’s about us stepping outside of our comfort zone, having conversations. The least you can do is get out of the echo chamber on social media. Follow people who are different from you, that look different, have different experiences, live in different places to just expand your understanding of other people’s experiences I think for me is the biggest part.

As you grow in that understanding, I then think about RAL? That’s my acronym for recognise, appreciate, leverage. I mean recognise those differences, appreciate those folks bring something that you don’t have and then think about how to leverage what I bring to the table and what they bring to the table for the good of whatever it is we’re trying to achieve?

That impact for that client, for the customer, because I feel like that’s the real value. It’s not like, “Oh, let’s all be different and be together. Hold hands and braid each other’s hair.” It’s about using those differences to better serve the people that we want to serve and to be able to have a wider impact that fits a broader group of people. That’s what it means to me.’

To get your copy of Carice’s book ‘Intelligence isn’t Enough: A Black Professional’s Guide to Thriving in the Workplace’ it’s available on Amazon. You can also connect directly with Carice on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook or visit her website

Your Guide to Thriving Authentically in the Workplace - Mildon