Authenticity in the workplace: 5 questions with chief marketing & brand officer, Stephen Cassell

With over 20 years of experience in transformative marketing, Chief Marketing and Brand Officer Stephen Cassell has enhanced the long-term value of many prominent brands over the course of his career. He understands all too well the connection between a brand’s values and the personal values of a consumer—and how those brand values affect the work environment for an organization’s employees.

We sat down with Stephen to get his take on why brand values are important, how authenticity and inclusion rely on one another and what it means to be an effective ally.

Q: As chief marketing and brand officer, brand is central to your everyday role. Why is it important for a brand’s values to align with the personal values of its consumers?

Stephen Cassell: In today’s world, people have more choices than ever before. They can search for a product online until they find a brand with the best price, the delivery window they need and in the exact color they want. And often, they’ll still have their pick of brands after narrowing down the choices.

With so many options, consumers are looking past the product and more directly at the brand selling it. Do they enjoy interacting with that brand? Does the brand donate any of its profits to charitable organizations? Does the brand appropriately touch on important societal issues on their social media channels? Consumers are considering a brand’s values—as in who that brand really is and what they care about—to see if those values align with their own. In fact, when polled, 71% of consumers said they would prefer to buy from brands that align with their own values. Whether or not there is alignment could determine if they purchase from that brand and how likely they’ll be to do so more than once.

A brand is made up of what is said and what is done—the say and the do. Brands that say what their values are and demonstrate those values have another way to connect with their consumers, as well as a broader opportunity across all levels in the market. For Point32Health, it’s vital that we not only share who we are as a brand but show it. Authentically living out our values is necessary to build trust and lasting relationships with our members as we help guide and empower them to healthier lives.

Q: Studies have shown that employees are happier when they’re able to be themselves at work. How can employers encourage authenticity with their employees?

SC: Not only are employees who feel empowered to be authentic at work happier, but they’re also more productive. A study from the ADP Research Institute noted that employees who felt seen, valued and heard were 75 times more likely to be fully engaged in their roles than those who didn’t feel connected.

Leading by example, employers can first demonstrate the authenticity they want to see within their workforce through their own behaviors. With an authentic leadership style, which was found to correlate to individual feelings of inclusion, leaders can facilitate discussion opportunities, continue to learn as individuals, seek feedback and ultimately create a safe space for others to do the same.

While it’s important for employers to encourage authenticity, it’s also a collaborative effort across an organization. It can be as simple as trying to make a personal connection with a different colleague each day—whether pausing for a quick chat in between meetings about weekend plans or asking how a co-worker is adjusting to being a mom after a visit from their newborn on a Teams call. It can be a manager encouraging any and all ideas during a meeting, no matter how different they might be. As a marketer who has participated in my fair share of brainstorming sessions, it’s often the more obscure ideas that lead to the right one—and the more ideas shared, the more learned about each person on the team.

When considering what it means to be authentic, remember that no matter what your role is within an organization, you aren’t required to share your entire life’s story or share potentially hurtful opinions to others (nor should you). Authenticity centers around making connections and practicing empathy.

Q: Do you see a connection between authenticity and inclusion in the workplace?

SC: Both help to create a healthy work environment for all employees to feel a sense of belonging. At Point32Health, for example, we create an inclusive environment where everyone—regardless of gender, sexual orientation or racial identity—is able to share and benefit from diverse perspectives. If there’s an organization-wide push for an inclusive work environment, where non-inclusive behavior is not tolerated, it’s likely that employees are going to feel inclined to show more of their authentic selves while working. Because when one employee feels comfortable enough to be themself and is accepted, it opens the door for others to follow. That’s not to say there isn’t still work to do, but, in the end, authenticity and inclusion best thrive as a pair.

Q: Let’s talk about effective allyship. How do you think allyship positively impacts inclusivity and authenticity in the workplace?

SC: Allies embody the expression: There is strength in numbers. Not only can they serve as a support system to someone who has experienced an injustice, but they’re able to be advocates for change within an organization. By speaking out against wrongdoings, allies are making it known that they won’t tolerate discriminatory behavior and that others shouldn’t either.

It’s important to be an ally, especially if you’re comfortable enough to use your voice when the time calls for it. Speaking up not only helps the person experiencing the injustice, but also serves as a model for those who may not yet be comfortable raising their own voices. The more colleagues who are consistent allies, the more inclusive and comfortable a work environment can be.

Q: Do you have any suggestions on how to actively practice allyship?

SC: There are a number of ways to practice allyship within the workplace. Voicing your opinion in response to a wrongdoing or unacceptable comment toward a co-worker, and repeating the process each time it’s needed, is a great way to be an ally. However, while speaking up might be the best way to advocate, it’s not always easy to do. It takes consistency and often multiple voices to help facilitate change.

For those who are new to allyship, start by educating yourself. Do your own research and read stories from those who have experienced discrimination and exclusion firsthand. Practice active listening. Connect with colleagues who might want to ask you questions or seek advice. Understand your own privilege and find a use for it that helps those without that same privilege.

When it comes down to it, just be a friend. Allyship is about helping everyone belong.