Are you suffering from an identity threat? What you need to know to feel more empowered on the job.


DISCUSSIONS AROUND IDENTITY AT work are often focused on race, gender, and sexual orientation. However, according to Atira Charles, Ph.D., assistant professor of management at Florida A&M University, there are many more facets to our makeup that affect how we function in the workplace.

"We are one big pizza pie, and we have a lot of slices," is the metaphor Charles favors. The "slices" include professional and social status such as faculty member, wife, or mother that influences how we feel about ourselves.

"If I feel confident, then that identity is going to make me engage in behaviors that are aligned with that [feeling]," she explains. As a result, those identities that are empowering will help you excel. Those that are liabilities--expressed in restricted, detrimental behavior--are identity threats that will limit your opportunities for advancement.

"If I have an identity threat related to being the youngest, I'm going to feel insecure about it. In meetings I may not want to speak up because people are going to say, 'She's just the young girl.' I may defer more to a senior colleague. Or I may be overly assertive or aggressive: 'You're not going to treat me like the young professional.' I'm going to engage in all these behaviors just to compensate for this one slice instead of focusing on the slices that could be empowering me. Clearly, I have talents and skills they want. The psychological tendency [however] is to focus on the problem area."


Develop emotional awareness.

"Before identity influences our behavior or attitude, it influences our emotions." Charles suggests writing your identities down, assigning pros and cons to each. "This gives you the opportunity to see it. But it's not just about the writing. It's the mental process of thinking through it and realizing what identities are important. Self-awareness is the most powerful tool you can use for career success."

Develop psychological resilience.

"If you have an identity or a combination of identities that are...

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