For many years during my career, I intentionally avoided talking about my children or any of my personal life to business associates, colleagues and management. For a single, African American mother, I perceived it as the ‘kiss of death’ to my career to be open about my status. I did not want to be viewed as another statistic: single, African American, unwed mother. Worse yet, I discovered that I did these things because I did not want to be judged for what many may see as the obvious. I truly wanted to be judged for my strong work ethic and my tremendous desire to be a team player. I was covering.
According to Jennifer Brown’s book, Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change, covering is sited as the intentional downplaying of your identity. Individuals often carry a fear of making people of other groups uncomfortable or they fear being characterized by a specific stereotype about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity or veteran status. Brown gave a first-hand account of her experiences of covering the fact that she was hiding her LBGT(Q) status. She spoke of that fear of not being fully accepted and being viewed as an outsider. She expressed that she felt that revealing her status would negatively affect her career.
From the Yoshino and Smith 2013 study, Uncovering Talent: The New Model of Inclusion, it reveals some surprising figures of those who cover and why. The survey yielded results from approximately 3,129 respondents from seven industries. It showed that 83% of LGBT individuals, 79% of Blacks, 67% of women of color, 66% of women (in general), 63% of Hispanics and 45% of straight white men participated in this behavior. Yoshino and Smith believe that people cover for four main reasons:
· Appearance-altering ones’ physical appearance to conform to the masses.
· Association-avoiding contact with same group members.
· Affiliation-avoiding behaviors widely associated with one’s identity.
· Advocacy-not standing up for your group; especially when negative situations occur.
Finally, the survey results also noted one startling concern. They found that high percentages of individuals felt that engaging in covering behavior is necessary to their overall career success. In this day and age of increasing diversity, how can individuals still feel the need to cover? Does its presence point to a strong desire to level an uneven playing field?
Intentional or not, covering is a deeply profound topic. It is the responsibility of leaders and change agents to engage employees and ensure that our working environments promote acceptance and trust towards all people. The less individuals display this behavior the greater the chances of achieving true inclusion and diversity of thought for effective partnerships and innovations.
This only hits the tip of the iceberg. It is my hope that this article stirs curiosity and creates continued dialogue.
Brown, Jennifer. Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change. Advantage Media Group. Kindle Edition.
Yoshino and Smith, Uncovering Talent: The New Model of Inclusion. Deloitte University, The Leadership Center for Inclusion, 2013. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/about-deloitte/us-inclusion-uncovering-talent-paper.pdf