A new study from the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion and law professor Kenji Yoshino indicates widespread instances of “covering,” the process by which individuals downplay their differences relative to mainstream perceptions, in ways costly to their productivity and sense of self at work. Three out of four (75 percent) research participants state that they have covered their identity; and, surprisingly, half (50 percent) of straight white male respondents report hiding their authentic selves on the job.
The report, Uncovering Talent: A New Model for Inclusion, co-authored by Christie Smith, managing principal, Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion, Deloitte LLP and Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU, examines how individuals cover along four dimensions:
- 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
As would be expected, the highest levels of covering occur among groups that are historically under-represented, including blacks (94 percent), women of color (91 percent) LGB (91percent) and women (80 percent). However, straight white males reported covering as well. “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 Yoshino. “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.”
The impact of covering is not only detrimental to the individual’s sense of self; it also has significant implications for the organization. A majority of respondents stated that their leaders (61 percent) and the organization’s culture (59 percent) expected individuals to cover. A substantial number of those respondents (45 to 49 percent) said that this expectation decreased their sense of opportunity and commitment to the organization.
The study draws on research from respondents spanning seven industries and a mix of ages, genders, race/ethnicities, orientations and seniority levels, as well as Yoshino’s award-winning book “Covering” (New York: Random House, 2006) 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,” said Smith. “The cost to the individual and the organization is too great to ignore.”
The report, Uncovering Talent: A New Model for Inclusion, including a full description of the research methodology used in the Deloitte study, can be found at www.deloitte.com/us/Uncovering.
The Deloitte University (DU) Leadership Center for Inclusion is a manifestation of Deloitte’s commitment to advance the conversation, continue to challenge the status quo, and lead from the front in inclusion. The new center provides a place (both at DU and virtually) and a platform for coming together to engage with Deloitte’s people, clients, and thought leaders on issues that will help it better understand and contribute to what inclusion will look like in the future.