Friday, September 21, 2007

Fighting perceptions

The picture above is a "before" shot of my office at work. For the longest time, I prided myself in having -- what I considered -- one of the coolest offices on campus. Though my spot has always been junky, it was pretty comfortable nonetheless. From my personal artwork, to sports memorabilia, to souvenirs, the stuff in my office created an environment that reflected my personality. And I was content with that.

Until that dreaded article was published.

Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published an article that suggests that too many personal items in an office space may negatively impact professional image. They contend that an office that has anything above a 1:5 ratio of personal to work-related items is too excessive. Between pens, figurines, posters, and miscellaneous knick knacks, I counted 49 items in my office that fit the description of being unprofessional non work-related. Hence the redecorating I'm doing (or should I say de-decorating?).

Now, when I first read this article I naturally thought "Who the hell defines professionalism?" When you've got CEOs who play golf in their office, or other professionals who have showcases of swords, spears, guns, cigars, and animal heads, this begs the question of how we can and should assign professionalism based on appearance alone. If we leave it up to them to set the bar, I'm afraid there isn't much to go by. Professionalism -- ideally -- should have more to do with how well a job is done than how well the person looks doing the job. Yet that's often not the case.

Being a black professional under 30 often puts me in a position where I feel like my merit alone doesn't sufficiently aid me in acheiving any real validation. So I often find that comprising some of my identity is a necessary thing to do at work or in any other social circles. It's a shitty reality, but it is reality nonetheless. Facing that reality, I try to make it my point to strategically choose which battles I need to fight and which ones from which I should abstain. If the aforementioned study holds any merit, I'd rather boost my professional image than have my Spongebob Squarepants artwork and Mardi Gras beads in my office. Frankly, I'd rather for people to know beforehand that I'm about business rather than being forced to put in the extra work to defy stereotypes and negative perceptions.

All that being said, my question to you is simple: would you do the same? Would you stick to your guns and continue to "do you"; even if it meant providing folks the very impetus they need to shape their perceptions about you? Or do you give in and separate yourself from your "identity"; thereby increasing your chances of avoiding incessant and difficult stereotypes? **I should note that, the Hippie Conservative just wrote a piece that discussed -- though not entirely -- stereotypes and their impact. Just thought I'd toss that out there for a little more context.**

Getting back to the matter at hand: I'm curious to know what you think.

Aaaand, go.

- ACL

13 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

KC said...

Interesting post, Dre. When I read this my mind automatically went to OJ. Since his acquittal over ten years ago, he's become number one on White America's hate list. That wasn't gonna change. But he kept hurting himself by doing even more stupid junk above and beyond the stuff he got away with (That's right. I said it. Black people, we need to admit that this dude is guilty as sin).

I say all of this just to say that if sacrificing a few 'personal' things is a step in the right direction for positively shaping your image, the ends justify the means. If what you say is true, people are going to think of you how they think of you anyway. The choice to feed in to that is up to you.

Anonymous said...

It's sad that we've gotten to the point where simple things like office appearance dictate the way we respond to others. Frankly, if appearance is tied to professionalism (which I don't believe it is), couldn't just having an office in the FIRST PLACE be considered professional?

Cynthia said...

Andre, I'm not trying to be a pacifist here, but do whatever makes you feel good. Stereotypes against you are going to exist no matter what.

Megan said...

Andre, it is indeed sad that people form such baseless perceptions of others. But you're right in one sense; this IS reality. Knowing that, the stereotypes won't be going away anytime soon. I tend to be the type who isn't affected by what others think so I disregard them. But if it bothers you (it sounds like it does) you may have to just throw in the towel and give in. It's all up to you. Just make sure it's something YOU want to do.

If your supervisor or your school have specific rules that need to be followed, that's another story altogether.

Joanne said...

Personally, I don't think I need to rely on personal artifacts to tell me who I am. I'm a strong, proud, Black woman who loves God. I don't have to wear daishikis, crosses, or afros to be who I am. I think you'll be better served by just letting this go. THIS is not worth the fight.

HeiressChild said...

my blog profile reads that "i like to be the unique me that God created me to be."

Joslyn said...

You can "do you" at your own home in which you pay to live. To me the answer is simple: It's the property of the University so they shoule be able to set the guldelines of how their offices should look. In the event that they conduct tours or decide to take pictures for a booklet, the have the right to do so and should be able to determine what's considered professional in their eyes.

*shrugs shoulders*

Andre said...

@ KC: "OJ...he kept hurting himself by doing even more stupid junk above and beyond the stuff he got away with"

Good point. I guess sometimes we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to other people's perceptions.

"...if sacrificing a few 'personal' things is a step in the right direction for positively shaping your image, the ends justify the means"

Sadly, I agree. Which is why the picture is a "before" shot. I boxed most of the toys, trinkets, and knick knacks. I'm suffering from withdrawal now. Urgh.

@ anonymous: "...couldn't just having an office in the FIRST PLACE be considered professional?

Not necessarily. I've ran into people with meticulous office spaces and were crappy at their jobs. Likewise, I've seen people in cubicles do incredible work. I curious to see how work environment is tied to productivity. Or not.

@ Cyn: Most of the time, I'd agree with doing what makes you feel good. But I'm not so sure if that attitude is expected a place where you earn a living. Unless, of course, it's your own company.

@ Megan: "Just make sure it's something YOU want to do.

If your supervisor or your school have specific rules that need to be followed, that's another story altogether.
"

As far as I can, we don't have such rules in place. One of the benefits with working at a liberal arts college is that they're aren't too many restrictions in place. Still, too much openness could possibly be a deterrent. Case in point.

Andre said...

@ Joanne: "Personally, I don't think I need to rely on personal artifacts to tell me who I am. I'm a strong, proud, Black woman who loves God. I don't have to wear daishikis, crosses, or afros to be who I am. I think you'll be better served by just letting this go. THIS is not worth the fight."

Dag! You just love to beat me over the head with truth, don't you?! :)

@ Sylv: Good point. I just that at the end of the day, I'm still a unique me even if I don't have a rubber bat hanging from my ceiling and a No Ma'Am shirt on my wall.

@ Jos: As I mentioned before, I don't think there are any policies in place dictating office space. But you're right in that the space, equipment, etc. DOES belong to U of M. Home is for home; which is why I cleaned house. Interestingly, though, the University prides itself on the diversity and the 'uniqueness' of community. There are some faculty on campus who have done some REAL off the wall stuff adn get praised for it. It's strange.

J. Alex said...

Honestly dude, I don't see what's so bad about your spot. It looks pretty organized and festive. Have any of your colleagues ever complained about it?

Andre said...

@ J.Alex: As far as I can tell, nobody's complained about my office. One of my closest University colleagues teased me about it, but I know it was in jest.

Still, that doesn't mean people haven't thought about it and not said anything.

Joanne said...

Andre, I'm curious to see an "after" shot of your office. Did you make any improvements?

Andre said...

Joanne, "improvements" isn't exactly the term I had in mind. I see it as more of a facelift.

But I did make some major changes. My furniture is pretty much intact, but most of my personal "trinkets" have been done away with it.

It was a difficult separation, but necessary all the same.