Why a Culture of ‘Unmasking’ Empowers Marginalized Professionals

By Mike Mattson in Life at OpenX|June 11, 2024

At OpenX, diversity in the workplace is more than just a buzzword. Senior Technical Recruiter Mike Mattson opens up about his experiences as a gay man in a professional setting and explores why unmasking feels so empowering for marginalized groups.

When I began my role at OpenX just under a year ago, my head was filled with nerves, excitement, ambition, and anxiety. Will I like my coworkers? Will my coworkers like me? I was bubbling over with every emotion since this new role represented a clean slate and a new beginning. Finally, I thought, I’ve leveled up my career and can take all the skills I’ve gained to start my next chapter as the new and improved me

Still, a creeping doubt kept me from being too excited. Would I be able to show the entire me? One of the abovementioned skills I carry is unfortunately all too familiar for marginalized groups, and that is the skill of masking. Simply stated, masking is the act of concealing your personality, abilities, preferences, etc., in order to blend in with the social norms of the group. As a gay man, it has been my experience that in order to gain organizational status and effectiveness, I needed to mask parts of myself. 

Why inclusivity matters

I think it was week two when it really hit me — this place actually feels different. When I started to open up about my authentic self, I was met with curiosity, not confusion or concern.

My differences were not only recognized and celebrated, but perspectives that differed from my peers were being valued. Masking inherently recognizes division and differences; unmasking promotes belonging, communication, and responsibility. As OpenX continues to define itself as a global leader in the adtech industry for relentlessly innovating, I wanted to explore examples of unmasking in action to understand how impactful environments that celebrate diversity are and why they matter. 

Unmasking has a flurry of benefits in a professional environment. Here are some I’ve observed at OpenX:

Increased organizational belonging

A recent training offered by OpenX makes use of a survey indicating that appreciation and recognition are rapidly emerging as the top characteristics employees look for in company culture. As it relates to masking, when employees feel they, and not just their work, are appreciated, they are more likely to stay in their role longer. The programmatic industry is notoriously niche, and specific skills can be hard to come by. By creating an environment where employees can unmask, OpenX retains top talent. In doing so, we retain institutional knowledge, increase productivity, and enhance our ability to innovate new products.

Higher rates of innovation

Speaking of innovation, as the programmatic industry evolves, the demand for new methodology has never been greater. By definition, masking confines thinking into messaging believed to reflect favorably. Often, this reduces collaboration and thought leadership, leaving no space for a difference of opinions, and ultimately stifling innovation. By unmasking at OpenX — where failure and mistakes are seen as growth and part of a learning opportunity — I’ve had the opportunity to be innovative in my role and try new things that have empowered both me and my workflow. 

Stronger bonds and more trust

Piper Stone famously said “Trust is earned, not given,” and I am now famously building on that by saying, “Authenticity and transparency pave the path for trust.” When building relationships personally and professionally, communication is a pillar of trust. An individual who is masking at work is unable to communicate authentically, believes their communication will not align with the norms of the organization, and ultimately erodes their trust in their team and their team’s trust in them. 

Unmasking in action

My experience at OpenX so far has been encouraging, validating, and, perhaps surprisingly, quite uncommon in many workplaces. With cruel irony, the ability to mask is a crucial tool for marginalized communities to gain acceptance while sacrificing belonging, innovation, and trust. It’s no stretch to confirm that workplaces who embrace authenticity THRIVE.

Unmasking is important for the psychological safety of your team, but is also something many people are unwilling or simply don’t have the support to do. The solution comes from none other than Gandhi himself: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” My Pride Month call to action and challenge for you is exactly this, be the change! For those of you who feel safe, role model authenticity and create a trusting environment for your team to unmask. The results will be dramatic, welcomed, and possibly even life-changing in ways you may never know.