Code Switching in the Workplace

Code Switching in the Workplace

It’s a topic not discussed regularly in the workplace, but happens every day – code switching. With the work environment becoming increasingly more diverse our young professionals needed a space to have these conversations about how our personal culture weaves its way into our professional lives.

Young Nonprofit Professionals Network-Kansas City hosted a Coffee Talk event in early November to provide a space to have a conversation about code switching in the workplace with local professionals who have had these discussions and experienced code switching in their careers. 

For Sherman Whites, Director in Education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, code switching is about, “How you show up to work – the ability to make the majority comfortable even when oneself is uncomfortable.” Whites worked in a several different settings where he believed, “Bringing your authentic self to work can result in regulated employment and not being promoted. Be mindful of that risk.”

Whites was joined by the Vice President of Grantmaking and Inclusion for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, Denise St. Omer. “Code switching is changing how you ‘show up’ in different settings,” St. Omer said. “Code switching is your ability to speak your lived experiences.”

Nation Public Radio (NPR) has tackled this topic through its podcast “Code Switch.” For Gene Demby, lead blogger for “Code Switch,” it’s more than about the linguistic take on code switching (mixing languages and speech patterns in conversations), but “looking at code-switching a little more broadly: many of us subtly, reflectively change the way we express ourselves all the time.” According to Demby, “We’re hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities – sometimes within a single interaction.”

NPR TV Critic, Eric Deggans, looked at how code switching is necessary. “In today’s increasingly multicultural, multiethnic society, the term’s deeper meaning involves shifting between different cultures as you move through life’s conversations – choosing your communication style based on the people you’re dealing with,” said Deggans. “It’s the reason why some black people speak with more grammatical attention when in all-white settings – especially at work – but let their slang hang out when among friends or mostly black people.”

“Organizational fit. Cultural fit. Those are both very subjective terms.” Whites said. “You have to be strategic about your battle. What’s the transaction cost. What’s the opportunity cost?” For St. Omer it’s about, “Bringing yourself to conform. Trying to bring your authentic self to work. Being able to be authentically professional in the workplace.”

After the event, Whites, St. Omer and our Kansas City young professionals continued the conversation. Our young professionals were thankful that a topic like code switching was discussed. It’s a subject that these professionals wanted an opportunity to talk about and many hope to continue the conversation beyond the YNPNkc Coffee Talk.



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