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Defining Authenticity

With Dani Jackson Smith, Rafael Franco, Delicia Tan and Jermaine Dallas


Authenticity has no formula or a singular definition—that's why it's so powerful. Tune in to our global squad of Edelman hosts as they define what authenticity means to them and share how they break barriers and bring their full selves to work every day.


Episode Transcript

Dani Jackson Smith [00:00:01] It's who you are at work after hours and back at home. Exploring every layer, finding out what makes you uniquely you and letting that shine back out into the world. It's authentic 365, a podcast that takes a glimpse into how some of the most inspiring people among us express themselves and make magic happen. I'm your host, Dani Jackson Smith, VP at Edelman by day, community enthusiast and lover of the people always. Hola good people. This is our first episode and our first roundtable discussion. I'm so excited to have our international co-host Delicia Tan, Rafael Franco and Jermaine Dallas on deck as we discuss defining authenticity. What's up, everybody?

Rafael Franco [00:00:45] Hello.

Delicia Tan [00:00:46] Hi, everyone.

Jermaine Dallas [00:00:46] Hey.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:00:47] So I got the idea to create this podcast because authenticity and the pursuit of authenticity create space for our humanity, often showing us how we're more alike than we are different. And tapping into what it means personally, professionally, in the moment and even over time. But what does it really mean to be authentic? Let's kick off with each of us sharing a bit about ourselves and our take on authenticity. Del, let's start with you.

Delicia Tan [00:01:13] Hi, I'm Alicia, and I'm based here in sunny Singapore. I am the managing director of client growth and innovation and a proud eighth generation Singaporean. For me, authenticity has always been a challenge. I've grappled with reconciling Asian values with who I am as an individual. Primarily because as I was growing up, I was always thought to be myself. However, the Asian values of collectivism and supporting the community may not exactly be in that wheelhouse. So for me, something I've grappled with, but my definition of authenticity is really about a person who acts in accordance with their own desires, motives, ideals or beliefs, and also is able to express who she really is.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:02:01] Yes, Del, I can relate to your definition of authenticity, and I look so forward to hearing more about what it means to really be eighth generation Singaporean. Jermaine, what are your thoughts?

Jermaine Dallas [00:02:14] So I am Jermaine based in London and I am a senior writer. Is my job title in my day job at Edelman. And in terms of authenticity, I think I would describe it as your ability to be yourself and every which way possible. And for me, it's about not having to wear a mask. I think if you are and yourself and in this the same sort of person in the different settings and you don't feel like you have to wear some sort of mask and have some sort of veneer over over who you really are. I think that's the real definition of authenticity.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:03:00] Right on drop the mask drop the veneers be the same person in different settings. Raf, what are your thoughts?

Rafael Franco [00:03:10] I'm Rafael. I'm work in the San Paolo office in Brazil. I'm a senior account executive in the Brant area, one of the leaders of the D&I group here, and cisgender gay white male. When I came out sixteen years ago, it was a very different time. More prejudiced society. It took a while for me to tell my parents, but the hardest part was to accept myself. And when I did that, it wasn't one of the moments when I felt authentic. And so that's why authenticity is strongly linked to my gay self. I could say that. And but in general, I can say that authenticity is the freedom to bring your whole self to everywhere you go to express yourself as you wish to not limit your thoughts, your speech. But always respecting others as well. If you don't limit their chance to be authentic as well.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:04:09] You can't see me when I'm over here taking notes because you are dropping as what we were, say jewels. Key elements that people should tune into, right? So giving people space to be their whole self, right, who you are, who I am may not be exactly the same. And that's OK. I have to give you some room, give you some space. I googled authentic, and the definition that comes up is genuine. And also knows that being authentic is being true to your own personality, values and spirit. For me, authenticity shows up when I'm aligned with my internal motivation. I find that that changes over time, right? As I change over time, my aspirations change and my motivations also shift. So I can't be my authentic self trying to align to the Dani that was 15 years old. Wow. Of course, I still have core values that remain intact. I say that to say that tuning into my inner voice and getting aligned with who I say I am at this moment is vital to me actually being authentic and living authentically leaning into what Raf shared. How do each of you describe your authentic vibe? Meaning this is who I am wherever I go. And in any setting,

Delicia Tan [00:05:33] I'm happy to jump in on that one. And you know, quite interestingly, I do find that I'm a lot more of my authentic self in the workplace because I am my own person. I don't have the responsibilities of being daughter or wife or cat mom. And in that sense, I find that working with people who have an open mindset and working within the workplace or working towards a common goal and sharing our challenges as well as our triumphs, enables me to really live up to my full potential. My team knows my FY22 or my financial plan was a Taylor Swift themed presentation, so again, I'm pleased to see that I'm able to live plans authentic self in the workplace.

Jermaine Dallas [00:06:17] I think for for me, I think I have to make a conscious effort sometimes because I think when you are joining a big company, you want to fit in. And it's really easy to think that in order for me to fit in, I have to be like everyone else and do the same things and think the same things. But a lot of the time, that's not really what you are hired for. So for me, authenticity is bringing that your full self and and really bringing what makes you unique to work. So sometimes it's an effort. I have to really make myself do that because it's not always straightforward, but when when I do nail it, when I when I do feel really comfortable, I think that's where I'm able to be myself and be my best self at work.

Rafael Franco [00:07:21] Yeah, totally. When I, when I was a child or a teenager, I was. It was not really easy to be my true self, to be authentic. When I find out that I might be gay, I had a prejudice mind myself. So I thought it was wrong to be effeminate, for example, and I tried to conceal any glimpse of movement that could be seen as feminine. And this has made some permanent marks in myself that I still carry with me. And so when I entered the workplace, I could. It was the first place where I could be myself, because in communications, usually you are more accepted. So I felt more vulnerable to show more parts of myself. And but now I'm in the moment when at work and I can be truly authentic. I'm my whole self. And but as I focus so much at work during the last two years. And I think that is one of the reasons that I was concealing myself. I open at work, so I felt comfortable at work. So I focused most part of my life to my work. And then now I'm in another journey to find my true self, my authentic self, on my personal life as well. And when you face prejudice is against sexuality, ethnicity or any of any other thing, I think is hard to to find your authenticity as a whole and our, as you said, any our authenticity changes over time as well because you're not the same today as you are like 20 years ago. So it changes and prejudice certainly have a great impact in that.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:09:15] Absolutely. Prejudice, discrimination and all the isms, racism, sexism, ageism, Abel ism, they all impact what it takes for us to show up authentically. We live in this world where these things exist and persist, so we must acknowledge that being authentic in spite of our surroundings or societal pressures really take something. Back in 2010, I got my first full time job as an associate producer. I recall a more senior black producer pulling me aside and encouraging me, but also sort of warning me not to become the black producer known for predominantly pitching black directors. This conversation disgusted me because I was certain my white colleagues were not getting schooled or how many white companies or directors to pitch. I'm born in Chicago, South Side and West Side, lived in New York, had been in the music industry, entertainment industry and had an array of contacts. So I felt like I was ultimately being asked to leave a part of who I was at the door in order to fit in. I'm sure this person meant well, but they had a case of respectability politics that would have me be more concerned with fitting in than pitching the diverse gamut of talent that I knew would be best for creative and for our clients. Luckily, I didn't listen. I pitched all sorts of people and, you know, I owe that to my upbringing. So shout out to my parents and my grandparents, but also to the tribe I had cultivated and created in Chicago and in New York through the 4A's multicultural internship program and through ADCOLOR. You know, when we come in as a community or when we know we have a community, we also feel more empowered to be our authentic selves.

Delicia Tan [00:11:07] For me, I think those are points where I kind of questioned my authentic self. I've had the good fortune of living in Australia and living in China as well. And for me, that's when I started to really question what my authentic self really was in Australia as a young student. I came to understand what it meant to be othered, to be Asian and to be a part of that minority group, whereas I was very sheltered from that for most of my childhood. Right. And really, I was very privileged in the first I would say 10 years of my formal education and going to Australia was a real challenge to then make sure that people heard you. Make sure that people didn't put you in a in a certain box or categorize you based on a stereotype. And what was interesting was that when I moved to China about six years ago, the challenge there was that people were like, You are Asian, but you're not like us, you're not Chinese. And the whole time I would get questions up. Where is your old family home? You know, where are you from? And I'm like, I'm from Singapore, right? And and it was there that I truly discovered that I'm Asian, but not that Asian, and I'm my kind of Asian. And if I remove the Asian level, I am just who I am.

Jermaine Dallas [00:12:29] And if for me, I can, I can relate to that because I'm used to, especially growing up in the the north of England in the 90s, when there wasn't that sort of spread of diversity that you would find now. I'm very much used to being in a minority or being the only black person in a particular situation. So whether that was at school, I was the only the only black kid. And even in professional settings, a lot of the time, I am very much in the minority and sometimes I feel there's a temptation to feel like you have to because you are the only black person. Sometimes you feel like you are the the representative of all black people, which is quite a big, big responsibility to put on yourself. And and I think that's that's on me. I think sometimes it's it's that it's like, why am I doing this to myself? Why am I putting myself in that situation? Because then it's it's like, am I doing the things that I personally want to do and saying the things I personally want to do? Or am I sort of being this being that the stereotype of being the things that I think people want me to say because of who I am? And so I think it's really important for me. I found it's really important to make sure that I am just me and my my background and all those are the things feed into who I am, but I have to just make sure that I am a representative of Jermaine, not the representative of all black people or all northern is all or whatever the case may be.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:14:09] Snap in my fingers over here because you drop in jewls Jermaine. I love that you say that I have to be the representative of Jermaine. So for me, I have to be the representative of Dani rather than all black women because we are not a monolith. That has me thinking about the saying. There is nothing new under the sun. When we talk about our uniqueness or being true to ourselves, we have to understand that what we call self has been conditioned by the world around us, the people around us, the society that we live in. Sometimes we are putting on and taking off identities based on how they serve us. For example, when I was 13 years old, I had made a declaration in my mind, at least, that I was not going to embrace anything else girly. So no more. Flowers, no more dresses, no more pinks, no purples. I prefer my baseball caps and baggy overalls. I prefer to hang out with the boys listening to hip hop. Wu-Tang Clan, Chicago, crucial conflict, et cetera, et cetera, because I want it to be respected. And while I didn't want to be a boy, I thought it was better for me to embrace the personas like Queen Latifah, M.C. like Mary J. Blige left die. You know, those women had a big impact on me. I wanted to be more like them than the girls I saw dancing in the music videos. And while I was attracted to boys, I found it safer for myself to downplay my physical assets, to downplay my femininity and gain respect with meaningful relationships, meaningful friendships and a lot less attention that left me being guarded by guys. As I got older, I started to realize that I created a persona to protect myself. But I was really creating a prison for myself and that I really did love dresses and makeup and colorful wigs and looking fly just as much as I love my baseball caps and my overalls, so I had to grow into a new, authentic me.

Delicia Tan [00:16:12] I can totally relate, Dani. That's because I'm an only child, and I always used to joke that I am my father's son and my mother's daughter, primarily because my father was in the military service for a very large part of his life. So, you know, I'd be there wearing daddy's beret, you know, playing with his boots. But at the same time, I'd be sneaking into my mom's cosmetic pouch, putting on lipstick and her high heels. So again, you know that there's that idea of who do I want to be when I grow up. In my culture because I said I was eight generation Singaporean what we call peranakans, which means Chinese that are born in this part of the world, southeast Asia. And our culture for some reason is very matriarchal, which is why my grandmother was a very clear steering influence in my life. And what was very interesting to me and relate it to your story, Dani, was that my grandmother would often chase someone like me out of the kitchen saying that you're not meant to be here. You were made for bigger things. And you know, that would mean getting into the boats know. And my grandmother was considered modern because she was slacks instead of a traditional sorrel, for instance. So that idea of, you know, taking on the masculine roles and I always wanted to be exactly like my father. You know, I would practice, you know, military drills in the living room. And to me, you know, following that masculine example was about claiming that power back, you know, as opposed to to being in the kitchen all the time. So I totally relate. I'm with you. I was into the overalls and baseball caps. I still am, you know, that's probably who I am today.

Rafael Franco [00:17:55] It's interesting because for me, sexism is the core of every prejudice, I guess because of prejudice, gender prejudice. Or even if you say against gay people, for example, it's it's wrong to be gay because it's feminine. So to look like a woman, to sound like a woman, it's wrong. So it it's the core prejudice of all, I guess. And as I said, I conceal my my feminine movements or gestures. When I was young and at school, I didn't like to play football or soccer, depending on where you are. So those classes were like tortured to me, I hated. And as a whole, I try to skip school on that day. And then I started to find my true self when I was up, when I was around 20 years old, when I went out to my first gay club and I tried to, oh, this is a world that I can live in. And then after a while when it is, I have a travel blog focused on the LGBTQ+ Community, and this was the first of a kind in Brazil. And so this gave gave me some visibility. What put me in a position where usually I was the only gay guy around as Jermaine was, say, saying, and this is it's quite risky to for you to become a token. So you are the gay guy. You are the black guy, the black girl, you're the Asian girl, and you have to represent everyone. So it's confusing when you have to define, OK, this is a part of me. I am a gay guy, so it's something that it's part of me. But at the same time, I don't relate to every gay stereotype and I don't feel connected to. I don't know. I can. I can be. People can swear at me if I say that I don't watch, for example, RuPaul's Drag Race, I don't follow that much, so this is not a part of me, but I respect and they like the culture, but I don't relate to every single aspect of being a gay men of what a gay men look like to the society. So it's quite risky to become a token for my opinion.

Jermaine Dallas [00:20:17] And I think that I think the important thing is that we shouldn't feel like we we have to sort of be that gay guy or that black guy or whatever the case may be. And I think that that that pressure can be can be dangerous at times. But yeah, I think we are really, really complex human beings. And and I think we should sort of embrace and appreciate our complexity and because that those those stereotypes really lack nuance and complexity, that they're very simple because that they exist to sort of help people categorize and people and based on one aspects of who they are. But I think when when you appreciate that the the the complexity of who people are and embrace that for who you are, I think it really it does a lot to help us show up authentically and wherever we are.

Delicia Tan [00:21:26] You took the words right out of my mouth to and set them even much better than I. I definitely could. Yeah, and I completely agree with you. I wish you could see my snaps right now about you snapping furiously. That's primarily because, you know, people are lazy in general and by codifying certain behaviors or codifying stuff, then people, it makes it so much easier to then go through life. But again, if you peel the layers of the onion to really get to that authentic core, you'll be so much richer for the experience, which is why I think, you know, that's oftentimes a reminder to myself as well to not just say, Oh, this person is like this or has this role, and therefore I need to react to this person in with this.

Rafael Franco [00:22:14] Yet there's something important to say that we all have prejudice. It's part of our nature, is part of who we are. We have to relate situations with things that we have lived. So we have great Concepted ideas of everything. The important thing is to think about it, just to sit on that and say, this is something that I should be thinking. This is something that it's connected to the truth or is just something that I created to protect myself because it's important that I don't know if you go on a hike and you have to have certain quick thoughts to protect yourself. So this is life we can. We don't have a way to forbid that to happen. I don't know if I'm speaking the right words here because my authentic self is Latino. So English is not my, my native native language, but you have to be. You have to have this preconception ideas, but you have to think over that and see if it connects to real life.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:23:28] I completely agree. And so, you know, another way to frame that up is to have bias is to be human, right? And so the more we're in tune with what our biases are, the more we have the opportunity to avoid discrimination and to tap into our own authentic identity. With that being said, I know we're almost that time and I want to ask a little bit of a fun question if authenticity was a piece of wearable fashion, what would it be for you?

Jermaine Dallas [00:23:59] I think that for me, my sort of wearable representation of who I am would probably be quite bizarrely, a pair of slippers because I think that one thing that people often say about me and I think I start to realize that is true is that I'm quite a laidback personality and I really don't like to stress myself out or get to set up about things that I don't really have control over. So I think that's a big part of who I am and and I'm owning it because it's I think it's really helped me to to stay, to stay cool in high pressure situations.

Rafael Franco [00:24:45] I think we have different authentic identities. I can be authentic at work and be authentic at home, and they are just different from each other and just parts of me that I wanted to show in and in this show is to show just a part of myself consciously. It's to be authentic as well, and as I said, it was authenticity was a wearable fashion item. I guess it would be a men's skirt because some people will judge you for wearing. Other people will admire you for the same reason. But in the in the end, what matters is that you're comfortable. So I would say a men's skirt is the is the item that I would choose for that

Delicia Tan [00:25:32] if I were a piece of wearable fashion, I would be something that I wear almost every day, which is a bandana that shows the little bit of the repressed rocker side of me. I secretly wear them to client meetings as a nice little side scarf under my blazer. Or, you know, if we're out and about, I wear it as a hat headband. And to me, exactly what Raf was saying, right? It's about this idea that you can be authentic and yet many different versions of yourself, which is why, for me, the band that is really iconic, I was a massive Ross fan growing up, Jimmy, and I think I'm dating myself there. You're probably too young to remember Ross, but essentially I remember, you know? OK, great. I don't feel so long in the tooth now. But yeah, you know, to me that that was the idea of British pop rebellion. Well, now you guys have evolved in certain ways, but the key thing is that the bandana means a lot to me. I could be in Hell's Kitchen at one moment and the next, you know, really be a posh French lady, if you will. So again, I love the idea that we can be authentic, multifaceted sounds and different people in different situations and still be yourself.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:26:49] I love that. Look, if I am a piece of authentic wearable fashion, I am going to be a hoodie. Classic, comfortable saving grace, rain, hail, snow. The hoodie is the place where I go to for protection almost, you know? So that's me. One last question before we get out of here, and that's what advice would you give to your younger self regarding being authentic?

Jermaine Dallas [00:27:18] So when I hit 30, I read an article about what happens to people when they hit 30. And one of the things I remember the article saying is that you really start to own who you are and not care as much about what other people think. Because I think prior to that, there's a lot of pressure and there was with with me as well to really get everyone onside and get everyone to like you. And so I think the advice I would give to my younger self is to be confident about who I am and the right people will like you because you'll never be for everyone anyway. So I think why? Why make things difficult by pretending to be something that you're not? So I think I would advise my younger self to just be myself.

Delicia Tan [00:28:12] I think building on on what Jermaine said and being yourself. When my younger self actually had a lot of guidance along the way from my grandmother who told me I shouldn't be a member of ever, I couldn't be Gladys Knight because I had no pits on my auntie and said, You know, you shouldn't wear your Amex ninety fives all the time. You know, that's not lady like. I would tell my younger self that, you know, that's a lot of well-meaning advice, but you know, I still turned out OK. So again, it's kind of cool to be different and kind of cool to want to be different things and really go on that journey of self-discovery. As long as at the end of the day, you know that you take care of number one, which is really yourself, and you can be proud of what you've achieved after all of that. So there you go.

Rafael Franco [00:29:00] Well, I'm a person who loves self-knowledge, self-discovery. I love to search my true self every single day and bring it to the table. And this is what makes my my vital force every day. And it's an endless journey that I love to be is always rewarding, although it's not always easy. So it's a process, right? So I wouldn't. To be honest, I wouldn't tell anything that to my younger self to change it the way I saw life, because this made me who I am today. I wouldn't. I would maybe just say, like, keep an eye on being authentic. This will be important in your life from now on. But I would not like change. I needed to go through. Some things should be who I am today, and I'm very proud to be myself today, so I wouldn't say much. I wouldn't give spoilers. I'm not as. Spoiler guy,

Dani Jackson Smith [00:30:00] I love that no spoilers. I'm with you, I wouldn't change anything per se, but I would tell myself to enjoy the quiet spaces, get to know yourself and listen. Just be quiet and be still and listen to yourself so that you can actually recognize your authentic voice. With that, we are at time, guys. Thank you so much.

Delicia Tan [00:30:28] It's been awesome.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:30:31] And that's a wrap for this episode. Many thanks to you for walking with us. And until next time, keep it authentic all day. Every day. Shout out to our team behind the scenes Faith McIver, Emma Marie MacAfee, Trisch Smith, Denise Busch, Sarah Neil, Pamela Blandon, Emma Dowling, Ryan VandenBosch. Authentic 365 is brought to you by global communications firm Edelman

About the Speakers

Jermaine Dallas, Senior Copywriter, Edelman London —

Jermaine Dallas helps brands tell their stories through audio and copywriting. He was a journalist once upon a time but now he’s seen the light!

During his time at Edelman London which spans almost a decade, Jermaine has specialised primarily in technology, which includes work on clients spanning smart technology, enterprise IT services and mobile. He has also spread his wings to include work on consumer, healthcare and corporate brands.

Jermaine has local and national radio presenting experience across both BBC and commercial stations and training in radio and print journalism from the University of Central Lancashire. When he’s not listening to and making podcasts, Jermaine spends his time with weird music, photography and food.

Rafael Franco, Senior Account Executive, Edelman Brazil —

Rafael Franco has graduated in Advertisement at São Judas Tadeu University in São Paulo (USJT-SP) and, since 2003 works in various areas of Communications, such as Press Relations, Project Management, Design, Content and Marketing. Since 2009, creates content for blogs, video channels and social media and, since 2004, has been specializing in Diversity, Equality & Inclusion (DE&I) practices. He was Tourism Director for the Brazilian LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, created the Viaja Bi! project and has lectured on tourism and diversity in Brazil, the USA and Peru.

At Edelman since 2019, Rafael worked on Tourism, Health and Consumer practices, serving clients such as Tourism of Israel, hotel Palácio Tangará, Hotel Transamerica, Oceania Cruises, Starbucks, TGI Fridays, Femama, Janssen and SC Johnson, besides special projects. His role involves relationship with the press, influencers and other stakeholders, strategic and tactical planning, content writing, reporting, crisis management, organization and monitoring of events. He is the LGBTQIA+ leader for EdelMais, Edelman Brazil’s DE&I group, and the representative for Brazil at the DE&I Global Council.

Delicia Tan, Managing Director of Client Innovation and Growth, Edelman Singapore —

Delicia Tan is the Managing Director of Client Innovation and Growth.  She also leads the 30-strong Reputation Practice at Edelman Singapore.

With more than 20 years of integrated marketing communications experience across the Asia Pacific region, Delicia is a Senior Client Strategist for key regional and global clients based in Singapore.  She is also Edelman’s APAC Chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Outside of the office, she’s a supporter of the Arts, ally of the LGBTQ+ community, wife, daughter and cat mom.

Dani Jackson, VP, Influencer and Multicultural Marketing, Edelman Chicago —

Made in Chicago and matured in New York City, Dani Jackson is a multi-faceted cultural enthusiast and storyteller that is obsessed with curating spaces that build community. As a VP of Influence, Dani takes a people first approach to developing strategies and partnerships that connect brands with the core values of the communities that they seek to serve. With over a decade in the industry, she harnesses her experience in production, multicultural marketing and DE&I to provide clients with top-notch counsel.

Dani has been recognized for her leadership, winning the ADCOLOR 2021 Rockstar Award and the Chicago Ad Federation Rising Star Award. Outside of the office Dani is a filmmaker and works with diverse artists committed to making a difference in society through her endeavor, The Cre8tors.