Authenticity Unfiltered: Owning Your Voice and Strategic Self-Promotion at Work

April 18, 2024
Photo of a meeting room with people sitting next to each other, and the focal point is of a South Asian woman speaking.

Navigating the workplace landscape looks different for Indigenous, Black, and racialized women, often demanding a delicate balance between asserting one’s presence and voice, and navigating systemic barriers. The act of ‘owning one’s voice’ and engaging in strategic self-promotion is not just about personal advancement – it’s a profound exercise in reshaping the narrative, re-evaluating the structures of power, and carving out spaces where diverse perspectives are not only heard but celebrated. 

Drawing on insights from an interview with Jessica Ketwaroo-Green, a gender equity and anti-racism advocate, it becomes clear that recognizing the nuanced experiences of Indigenous, Black, and racialized women is the first step to creating spaces for diverse voices to be heard. It is important to first acknowledge that women are very often overlooked, misunderstood, and undervalued.  Ketwaroo-Green introduces the ELAT approach – this showcases the value of Engaging with, Listening to, Acting upon, and Thanking women for their contributions to cultivate an environment where every voice is heard, valued, and empowered.

As racialized women ourselves, we often reflect on how we can remain authentic in our academic and professional environments. How do we fully embrace and express our unique voices and stories in a manner that resonates with our deepest values and true selves? How can we effectively advocate for ourselves to accelerate our careers in our workplaces? 

Accelerate Her Future hosted its Virtual Summit 2023 featuring a panel with four inspiring women from diverse career paths doing a deep dive into the art of owning our narratives and navigating the workplace and leadership roles while being our truest and unapologetic selves. Personal brands, values, and presence in the world are not just to be acknowledged but celebrated and encouraged. Let’s explore some key insights and themes our panelists, Irene Mukasa (Moderator), Anne Steptoe, Faty Sylla, and Gayathri Shukla, shared about harnessing our differences as strengths.


Reflecting on Your Personal Brand

An important viewpoint highlighted by the panel was the concept of ‘personal brand’. In the evolving world of work, defining a personal brand becomes a pivotal aspect for Indigenous, Black, and racialized women. A personal brand is more than a mere professional persona; it is an authentic expression of one’s values, strengths, and visions. By crafting and communicating a personal brand that is deeply authentic, Indigenous, Black, and racialized women not only navigate the workplace with greater clarity and purpose but also advocate for themselves and their communities in spaces that have historically marginalized their voices. 

At the Center for Talent Innovation, Sylvia Ann Hewlett explains that cultivating one’s personal brand is an important way to attract a work sponsor. Consequently, individuals with sponsors are 23% more likely than their peers to be promoted – sponsorship is especially critical for Indigenous, Black and racialized women

Irene Mukasa (she/her), Director of Research Communications and Engagement at a tech company, moderated this panel and started the discussion with personal branding. She engaged the panel in a conversation about how Indigenous, Black, and racialized women can bring their authentic selves to the workplace, and establish a personal brand for themselves. 


“Personal brand is about giving power to your identities.”

Gayathri Shukla (she/her), the founder of a powerful equity start-up and author of Landed, notably mentioned how her roles as a mother, daughter, and sister have made her personal brand multi-faceted and multi-passionate. Gayathri explains, “I don’t see myself fitting into one box. I started my career as an engineer and moved into leadership roles in technology. I now see myself as a social entrepreneur having started a social enterprise. The consistent narrative between all of these aspects is me but also my personal values which is my personal brand dictating how I show up in my work and the world.”

Anne Steptoe (she/her), Vice President Platform Engineering for a fintech company, agrees that leading with values anchors our personal brand while taking into account different aspects of our identities. “For me as a Filipino immigrant and woman in tech, I want to be seen as a strategic, inclusive, and empathetic leader whose strong technical expertise and business acumen helps companies and teams achieve their goals. This type of brand takes time to develop and goes back to your values and what’s important to you.” 

Dorie Clark highlights in this Harvard Business Review blog that developing a personal brand is crucial for career advancement. She also acknowledges that developing a personal brand is particularly complex for women due to societal expectations around likability. Some key strategies to understand one’s personal brand include networking beyond immediate circles, controlling your narrative with a clear connection between past experiences and current roles, and sharing your ideas publicly to establish expertise. 

By effectively defining and leveraging one’s personal brand, Indigenous, Black, and racialized women can amplify their voices, advocate for meaningful changes, and navigate their careers with a sense of empowerment and purpose. 

Irene believes that organizations need to establish a safe culture for women and in doing so organizations must strive towards more inclusive practices and cultures, so that Indigenous, Black, and racialized women feel safe to bring their authentic selves forward. 


Bringing Your Authentic Selves to the Workplace

Being authentic in the workplace means bringing one’s whole self to work – embracing one’s background, experiences, and perspectives as strengths rather than barriers. Yet, this is a complex notion that can be risky, especially for Indigenous, Black, and racialized women. 

Gayathri believes in the statement bringing your authentic self, but unless a workplace culture is genuinely psychologically safe, the invitation to bring one’s authentic self to work can be misleading, even imposing penalties on women. 

Gayathri goes on to highlight the McKinsey and Lean In Women in the Workplace report, which sheds light on a phenomenon known as the “broken rung,” which is the first promotion to manager that significantly hampers the advancement of women of color into more senior leadership roles. The statistics are striking: for every 100 men promoted, only 87 women and even fewer women of color, 73, are promoted. 

These disparities are not random but are deeply rooted in workplace biases. Irene explains, ”Such disparities lead to many women adopting coping mechanisms that involve hiding aspects of their identities.” 

Speaking on this issue, Gayathri importantly adds that “no one deserves to be in a culture where they have to diminish aspects of themselves just to fit in.” This reality poses a dilemma for many: endure and conform, or seek out spaces more conducive to genuine inclusion and belonging.


“We are worth that!” stresses Irene. “We are all worth being in places where we feel safe to show up as ourselves.”


The path towards authenticity and acceptance involves a deep understanding of what being authentic means and, crucially, finding an environment that creates the conditions for you to thrive and flourish while celebrating that authenticity. 


Setting the Tone on Your Narrative in the Workplace

Boldy owning our narrative or using our voice can often come with risks for Indigenous, Black and racialized women including as big as losing out on a job or being overlooked on a project or having a negative brand being associated with you. 

Irene explains that in the workplace it can be common for people to prescribe a brand to you or may want to put you in a box of what your brand can look like. Working through these contexts is important to ensure you own your narrative and brand, to keep that authenticity and not feel like others’ opinions, thoughts or criticism might confine you into a box. 

Faty Sylla (she/her), an Associate at a large financial institution, recommends setting the tone for your narrative from the get-go. She says,”I try to tell people about me before they get to tell me what they think.” It’s important for Indigenous, Black and racialized women to set their brand, and establish a voice within the workplace from day one. When Faty had to join a new team biannually in the workplace, she chose to own her narrative to not only highlight her values and personality and also her aspirations and career goals for the future with the team lead.

Anne outlined a workplace experience where a male leader was providing feedback and in doing so created a dichotomy between their leadership styles, referring to Anne’s as “servant leadership” vs. his “roll-up-your-sleeves leadership.” After taking time to process this experience, Anne approached her leader engaging in a successful conversation to explain these styles are not mutually exclusive and ensured that her skills were not diminished. 


Becoming Influential in the Workplace

Irene explained how in her early-career, a lot of her non-racialized colleagues were encouraged to create narratives and brands that talked about themselves as “experts,” “unicorns”, “triple threats,” and unstoppable. Yet, she also observed the “Pet to Threat” phenomenon in relation to the experiences of Indigenous Black and racialized women in the workplace. 

The “pet to threat” concept was coined by Dr. Kecia Thomas in 2013 to describe a phenomenon experienced by women of color, particularly Black women, in the workplace. It refers to the way in which we maye support and positive feedback early on in our careers, but as we become more competent and confident in our roles, attitudes towards us can shift. We may begin to be seen as a threat rather than a valued asset to the team. 


Irene asserted the importance of boldly engaging in workplaces without feeling like we have to water ourselves down, or make ourselves small to make others comfortable.


Gayathri adds that there is no magic bullet to this and some people will see you as a threat.  “Once you start to reach a certain level of success, power or influence, you absolutely will become a threat,” Gayathri claims. 

Recalling her own experience, Gayathri speaks of her transition out of corporate and into entrepreneurship. During this time, she was questioned by many, and persistently told that she was making a “mistake.” While these responses initially induced self-doubt, she later realized that the comments are more about those who were offering the feedback and not about you and the simple way around it is to stand your ground and stay the course because you deserve the success.  This is why it is critical to build community and allies both internally within your organization and externally. 

Anne adds “Another way is to present on topics that you know really well or are passionate about, both internally and externally. You can start with presentations to your team, then all hands meetings, then see if you can get someone to get you in front of senior leadership, and also speak on panels externally.” This helps you get exposure and be seen as a  thought leader. 


The Role Leaders Can Play

All in all, leaders and those in decision making roles play an important role in creating the conditions for Indigenous, Black and racialized women to be visible, to show up authentically and have access to a full range of opportunities to flourish and thrive. According to the panel, below are a few ways leaders can play a role:

  • Understand the ways in which Indigenous, Black and racialized women have been historically marginalized and excluded
  • Really listen compassionately and believe Indigenous, Black and racialized women when they share their experiences, raise concern, and outline inequities
  • Consider how to implement spaces for true authenticity and one way to do that is through storytelling to engage the mind and heart
  • Create a robust approach to addressing the inequities faced by Indigenous, Black and racialized women throughout the employee life cycle


About the Authors: 

Khafia Iftikhar (she/her) is currently a fourth year Biology student at McMaster University. Khafia is passionate about writing, and learning more about the barriers and opportunities faced by Indigenous, Black, and racialized women in the workforce.

Mahira Morshed (she/her) graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences and is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health at McMaster University. Working in the field of equity, Mahira strives to deepen her understanding of the disparities and opportunities that Indigenous, Black, and racialized women encounter in the workplace in Canada.

Khafia and Mahira were interns at Accelerate Her Future through Riipen’s Level Up program.



Clark, D. (2018, March). How women can develop and promote their personal brand. Harvard Business Review.

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. What is Servant Leadership? Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Retrieved from

Hewlett, S. A. (2014, February). Make yourself sponsor-worthy. Harvard Business Review.

Ketwaroo-Green, J. (2021, February). A simple formula for retaining and supporting Black and racialized young women at work. Women of Influence.

LeanIn.Org & McKinsey & Company. (2023). Women in the Workplace 2023: Key findings & takeaways. Lean In.

Management Leadership for Tomorrow. (2021, June). The infuriating journey from pet to threat: How bias undermines Black women at work. Forbes.

The Globe and Mail. (2023, March). Why racialized women are feeling erased at work, plus how to kickstart. The Globe and Mail.