People of diverse backgrounds are hiding their authentic selves at work, to the detriment of productivity and sense of self, according to a new study from the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion and law professor Kenji Yoshino, which also found that half of straight white males “cover” their differences in the office.

The report, “Uncovering Talent: A New Model for Inclusion,” was co-authored by Christie Smith, managing principal of the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion and Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren professor of constitutional law at New York University.

In addition to the report’s online, anonymous survey finding that half (50 percent) of straight white males hide their authentic selves on the job, three out of four respondents reported covered their identity.

The report discovered that the practice of “covering,” a term coined by sociologist Erving Goffman in 1963 to describe how people with stigmatized identities made a “great effort to keep the stigma from looming large,” varied according to group.

The highest levels of covering were found in groups that are historically underrepresented, including blacks (94 percent), women of color (91 percent), LGB (91 percent) and women (80 percent).

The report examined individual covering along four axes:

•    Appearance: avoiding aspects of self-presentation—including grooming, attire, and mannerisms —identified with their group
•    Affiliation: avoiding behaviors identified with their group
•    Advocacy: avoiding engagement in activities on behalf of their group
•    Association: avoiding contact with individuals in their group

“The Uncovering Talent model allows organizations to ‘zoom in’ on historically underrepresented groups to examine the enduring challenges they face in a more rigorous way,” said co-author Yoshino in a statement. “At the same time, the model allows organizations to ‘zoom out’ to find common ground in the aspiration of all groups to bring their authentic selves to the workplace.” 

Covering also impacts the individuals’ organization, according to the report. A majority of survey participants said their leaders (61 percent) and the organization’s culture (59 percent) expected individuals to cover, while 45 to 49 percent of those respondents said that this expectation decreased their sense of opportunity and commitment to the organization.

In addition to the survey’s 220 respondents from seven industries, who spanned different ages, genders, race/ethnicities, orientations and seniority levels, the study was based on Yoshino’s book “Covering” and Smith’s work in researching leadership, values and organizational culture.

“Although inclusion is a value that virtually all organizations claim to embrace, the magnitude of covering in the workplace clearly indicates a disconnect between values and actions,” stated Smith. “The cost to the individual and the organization is too great to ignore.”

The full report, including more details on the Deloitte study methodology, is available here.

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