Authentic Professionalism: A "New/Mode" of Working
New/Mode. Providing a "new mode" of civic engagement. However, as a recent New/Mode-ian, I have also found it to be a refreshing mode of employee engagement.
When I joined New/Mode, I was six months out of a toxic work environment. I candidly describe it as the worst experience of my fifteen year career. I was surprised by how long certain negative experiences continued to haunt me. It made me question the wisdom of the adage, “Just be grateful you even have a job in this economy, not to mention the pandemic.”
Then I started working at New/Mode. Working at New/Mode highlighted in contrast just how unpleasant my previous work environment was. It even made me recollect some incidents at my previous job that were highly inappropriate, disrespectful, humiliating, degrading, demoralizing, insulting and just plain unprofessional. I accepted them at the time because:
1) No one else was objecting because “This was just how management was.” When in Rome, do as Rome does? I questioned the wisdom of this adage as well; and
2) When I did bring things up, the managerial feedback was that this was “not fair to them” or “maybe I don’t understand because I’m a guy” in other words- your complaints are, by their very nature, specific to the feminine. I can’t relate to them, I can’t fix them and I can’t solve them.
All of which leads me to question, what does New/Mode do differently? I can sum it up in two words: authentic professionalism. These are three principles of authentic professionalism that New/Mode embodies and what makes it such a great place to work.
1) Inclusive and Accepting Work Environment
Our society frequently dismisses certain physical appearances – braids, beads, tattoos, to name a few – as "unprofessional." Usually, this all-encompassing term can be translated to mean “people who don’t look like me” or “people who don’t fit into my – or society’s – preconceived notion of how a North American office worker ought to look.” In contrast, New/Mode allows us to show up as our full selves. This was the first workplace where I felt comfortable wearing a sari (my traditional form of attire) to work. I never would have dreamed of doing so in any of my previous workplaces as it would have been deemed "unprofessional" and raised more than a few eyebrows. I felt very free and integrated with my real self at work, which in turn, allowed me to show up more solidly in meetings and conversations.
It would be easy to attribute my newfound comfort zone to the concept of remote work popularized by the pandemic (pajamas acceptable, pants optional). However, there’s more to it than that. I worked remotely for three years well before the pandemic. During those years, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable wearing a sari. It would have felt a little strange.
I felt empowered to embrace my natural style of clothing and being because of the example my colleagues set. When I saw them coming to video calls without feeling self-conscious about wearing sleeveless outfits, showing off tattoos and wearing casual outfits, I was encouraged to bring my whole self to work as well.
“Beauty is only skin-deep.” “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” When we worry less about external appearances, we become more committed to the goal we are engaged in as a team.
💡 Check out how our work at New/Mode enables others to make change:
- How Campaigners are Reaching Political Candidates and Decision-Makers During Elections
- Campaign Spotlight: No More Dirty Banks
2) Ability to be your Full Self
In our desperation to be "professional", acceptable and liked, I have found that we all perform a sort of ‘psychic amputation’, leaving our real selves behind when we enter the workplace. This can be a frustrating and painful experience.
In my previous workplace, one of the Learning and Development team’s manifesto statements read “When expectations are clear, performance soars.” As a New/Mode-ian, I say,
“When expectations are clear and human beings are allowed to be completely and totally themselves, performance soars.”
When I, as an employee, feel this level of comfort and psychological safety in the workplace, I can stop worrying about the superficial aspects of my brand, e.g. how I look, whether I am conforming sufficiently, whether my colleagues approve of me, and dedicate my energies solely to the task at hand.
One of the ways I have perceived employees being themselves is the way they interact with their pets during work. Some physical workplaces allow employees to bring their dogs to work and those employees have expressed a great deal of happiness. We are remote workers and therefore, pet owners are constantly around their pets. As a new New/Mode-ian, I was struck by how no one felt self-conscious when their pets wandered into their camera’s line of vision (or even into their lap!) during a Zoom call. They didn’t feel any need to excuse the fact that yes, they had a life outside of work and the boundaries occasionally blurred. I thought that was really interesting and also very comforting. It adds to the feeling of psychological safety I mentioned earlier. There also seems to be a natural feeling of reciprocity; the company that allows us this level of freedom and security should be repaid in turn by our best work.
💡 Learn how we help others make an impact:
- How New/Mode Enabled Swell Inc. to Unlock Change at the Local and Federal Level
- How Modern Campaigners are Turning Engagement into Impact
Cashew is trying to take a peek at April's work while Chubby the cat is lounging in Ben's laundry.
Speaking of best work …It is true that employees must be held accountable for their work output and that this sometimes translates into difficult decisions, transitions and farewells. However, when people are allowed to bring their whole selves to work, a new level of professionalism emerges and this is where New/Mode shines. There’s a certain magic in feeling accepted, safe and welcomed instead of demeaned, demoralized and humiliated.
Being part of a collegial and respectful environment in which it is safe to share ideas has helped me experience a sense of ownership in the company and its success. I find myself thinking about ways I can help make the company successful. What would an ideal campaign look like? How can we make the supporter experience pleasing and delightful, instead of the tedious chore that form-filling usually is? These are the questions I contemplate in my free time.
The ‘psychic amputation’ has been replaced with a sense of holistic liberation: the alignment of the professional and personal selves. I no longer have to leave my “other self” at the door when I begin my workday. Work has been successfully integrated into my lifestyle. I am able to keep up with demands in other areas of my life because my schedule is flexible and accommodating. For this, I am grateful to my team. They have truly brought about a ‘new mode’ of employee engagement, in which we live and breathe the same values. Some examples of this are:
- Being understanding of emergencies that come up from non-work responsibilities
- Giving colleagues the benefit of the doubt when they are not able to respond immediately
- Modeling the New/Mode core value of "empathy" when it comes to giving others grace and space.
Work will always bring with it new and interesting challenges from which we can grow. Being supported and respected helps me meet these challenges, while looking forward to learning and growing with my team.
Saranya Murthy is New/Mode’s Senior Quality Assurance Analyst. 😊 She is passionate about testing software that will provide the end user with a cohesive user experience. Saranya has 17 years of experience in testing enterprise resource software including Foglight (Dell/Quest Software) and Workbrain (Workbrain/Infor). She has led QA teams to deliver product releases on time and under budget. Saranya received her Bachelor of Mathematics in Honours Computer Science from the University of Waterloo and her M.B.A. in Finance from the Schulich School of Business at York University.
Saranya is also a dedicated advocate for the advancement of women as leaders and technologists. She was a Spring 2020 Journalism Fellow at AnitaB.org, where her articles showcased twelve remarkable women in technology. Saranya was also a Blogger for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
While Saranya has lived in Kenya, India and most recently, the United States, she retains a penchant and affinity for all things Canadian, including (but not limited to!) Tim Hortons, Classical 96.3 FM, Prince Edward Island and Lucy Maud Montgomery.
We’re here to help. Please book a call with one of our campaign advisors if you’re interested in learning more about how New/Mode supports this type of work.