As we enter into a new decade, I’ve been reflecting on the personal and professional changes I’ve gone through over the past 10 years. I became a wife, a mom to two children, a chief operating officer and a cofounder of a venture fund that’s dedicated to increasing women representation on cap tables.
I can say without hesitation how proud it makes me to see my focus, late nights and hard work pay off. However, I also recognize that many of my accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible had I simply maintained the status quo over the years. In fact, my professional growth has never hinged on following the old ethos of professionalism—the one in which professionalism correlates with wearing suits or hiding my emotions at work.
In many ways, my professional accomplishments have been bolstered by the milestones I achieved in my personal life. This is because the way companies view professionalism in the workplace is evolving toward an open culture of trust and transparency. As we lean in to this next decade, I believe we have an even greater opportunity to embrace this new era of professionalism and redefine what it looks like in the workplace.
The Influences Of Wall Street And Silicon Valley
When we think about what professionalism looks like at work, it’s natural for people to connect it to what they see on Wall Street: suits, formal business meetings, standing presentations, strict agendas, and the list goes on. This sense of what professionalism looks like is almost literal: It’s tied to how you look and behave in front of others.
Not that long ago, Silicon Valley completely disrupted this perception of professionalism. Rather than adhere to the traditional Wall Street perception of what a business professional should look like, they threw those notions out the window. They traded in fancy clothes and formal business approaches for novel ideas and innovation. Intelligence, collaboration and motivation, rather than what an employee wore to work every day, became the defining factors for what professionalism looked like.
Today, we’ve evolved even further into this new age of professionalism. Being a professional in today’s world means that our personal lives are intertwined, not separate or compartmentalized from work. At its core, this means we’re open and honest about what it means to work and succeed through transparency and trust with our peers.
The Power Of Trust And Transparency
Under this new ethos, professionalism also represents our individual vulnerabilities and unique selves. More and more, we don’t have to feel shy or embarrassed talking about our personal lives at work. We can bring our full selves, not just the happy, shiny parts. Together, we can embrace the hardships of being a single parent, share in the struggles of a divorce and openly celebrate our lives in the LGBTQ community.
I remember one time my daughter put stickers all over my work laptop. I took them all off, but it took a lot of time and effort to do so. A few months later, she did it again. But this time around, I didn’t try to hide them or clean them off. I used it as a conversation starter and owned that I was a mom with young children.
In the traditional sense of professionalism, this wouldn’t have been acceptable. My work-issued laptop, covered with its colorful stickers, would have been perceived as unprofessional. Yet in the new age of professionalism, this became an event that allowed me to create an authentic connection through a transparent conversation.
We can’t hide who we are to fit a mold or maintain a certain look. We have to own our differences, uniqueness and personal truths. Doing so will ensure that diversity and inclusion continue to be embraced in the workplace, not judged. Because the lines between our professional and personal lives are crossing, we can create more authentic and genuine relationships with our colleagues, clients and partners. The more transparent you are, the easier it is to create trust with your peers and teams.
More than anything, trust is the most important currency in business today.
Employee Satisfaction Matters
One thing that has stood out to me as a leader in the Valley over the past 15 years is that how we work together and execute on a given goal is just as important as the strategy behind it. I’m not alone in this belief: According to research, 88% of employees believe that a strong company culture is key to business success. So, if you want a strong culture, start with building trust with your teams.
Defining what professionalism looks like is another central part of building that culture. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, trust and transparency are at the base of it. How do we know this? Our employees tell us. Research has also found that 61% of employees cite trust in and with senior management as important to their satisfaction at the company.
For senior leaders, they can foster better trust throughout the company by simply making themselves available to employees. At my company, executives hold weekly office hours to encourage anyone to come and meet with us. I use this time to make sure I can be a trusting and transparent leader for my own team and the rest of the company.
Being a professional in the workplace today doesn’t mean that you need to wear a suit, always be formal or compartmentalize your personal life. The new age of professionalism embraces you as an individual and celebrates that everyone is unique and different.
In 2020 and beyond, companies can no longer base professionalism on maintaining certain appearances or withholding emotions. Their energy needs to be focused on building cultures filled with trust and transparency to create an environment where employees are set up to succeed at work.