Watch a replay of CompTIA’s ChannelCon’s discussion on covering and how leaders can create inclusive work environments here.
The term “covering” comes up often when discussing matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. A person is considered to be engaging in covering strategies and tactics when they are taking great lengths to either downplay or hide certain aspects of their personality or identity at work.
People primarily engage in covering because they fear that they will experience stigma, bias, and other harmful behavior should the perceived “undesirable”, “negative” or “different” facets of their identity or personality come to light. People who cover do so to fit into the social norms of their group/workplace and to avoid friction.
Covering can take on many different forms, including:
- altering one’s appearance to fit in with main group
- disassociating from behaviors negatively attributed to people’s ethnic or cultural identities
- avoiding contact with members from other groups
- avoiding speaking up for their group identity
Discussions on inclusion almost universally agree that people at work should feel comfortable bringing their “whole selves” to work, 100 percent. Taken further, inclusion discussions also emphasize it is our uniqueness and differences that give the organization a competitive advantage. But according to research on the subject by consulting firm Deloitte on “covering” at work, 61 percent of their survey respondents reported covering at least one aspect of themselves while at work and that number goes up to 83 percent among LGBTQ individuals.
What should leaders do to make people feel comfortable and not feel like they have to cover? I had the pleasure of speaking to Sage Franch, entrepreneur, activist of the CEO of Crescendo DEI, for CompTIA’s ChannelCon conference. Crescendo DEI is an organization that helps companies scale and measure inclusive action. In our talk, we spoke about own covering experiences — including the well-meaning but ultimately damaging guidance we’ve received in our careers — as well as what we believe can be done to make people more comfortable to be themselves.