Caribbean American culture expert discusses how to be ‘Confidently Caribbean’ at work

What does it mean to be confidently Caribbean? Your first instinct is probably to ‘be about the culture.’ Grow out your hair, celebrate your food, and talk in your pure, uncut accent. All of that is good, but it’s not the only way to be Caribbean at work. Kerry-Ann Reid Brown advocates for an alternative – code-switching the self.

Kerry-Ann is one of the leading voices in Caribbean podcasting. She’s the host of the much-heralded Carry-On Friends podcast where she dives into this and similar topics that Caribbean people across the diaspora face. She’s also the founder of Breadfruit Media, a podcast production company that helps clients of all sizes craft custom podcast solutions for their workflow. Plus, she’s the shepherd of the Caribbean Podcast directory – an easy-to-navigate database where users can find Caribbean-made podcasts on a variety of topics.

“I had to learn by losing my job”

For Kerry-Ann, being confidently Caribbean is leveraging your weaknesses and mitigating your liabilities as an immigrant. The strengths are obvious. Immigrants, through the very nature of migration, have to understand multiple realms of existence. They are acutely aware of things going on in their native land and their adoptive home. “Most of us have had to navigate multi-cultural elements in our day-to-day life,” Kerry-Ann explains. “We’re used to effortlessly navigating a blend of cultures.” This ability to navigate seamlessly through cultural friction is the great strength of all immigrants. 

One thing that follows immigrants into the workplace is a ‘work hard, nose to the grindstone’ mentality. It used to be an undeniable strength, but in some instances it can be a liability. “This is what impacted me,” Kerry-Ann laments. “For a good part of my career, working hard [with no interest in socialization] was my reputation and it was why a lot of people wanted to work with me.” The work dynamics began to change in 2011. Workforces were getting younger and more social. Abstaining from socializing was interpreted as hostility. 

“I had to learn by losing my job,” she explained. Kerry-Ann encourages other immigrants to not make her mistakes. “It was never about my work product, it was ‘she was mean.’ [I was mean] and I hadn’t said anything. I was just not social in a way that was comfortable for them, so they created my reputation for me.”

She encourages thinking about the workplace like how we think of clothes. “You have judging clothes, church clothes, and work clothes – most Caribbean people are very clear about this,” she states. ”We have to take on this element when we go to work.” She acknowledges the region’s proclivity towards genuineness, but insists it’s not about “being fake.” It’s about matching the culture of the environment. Ideally, before taking on a job, you should try to find out what the employee culture is like. This is admittedly easier said than done but the friction from a bad culture match is usually what wrongfoots immigrant employees. “If you’re betting against the house, you might as well find another job,” Kerry-Ann posits.

Ultimately, it’s about establishing your boundaries. What are the hard lines that you will not cross and what parts can you relax on? Kerry-Ann advises, “If you’re not a social employee, maybe you can make time to go to every other-other event. You can win at work if you understand the corporate culture you’re operating in.”

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