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Identity Covering in the Workplace: Definition, Examples & Implications

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  • 0:04 Hiding in Plain Sight
  • 0:38 What Is Identity Covering?
  • 1:57 Identity Covering & Diversity
  • 3:02 Eliminating Identity Covering
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Identity covering in the workplace has implications for diversity and inclusion initiatives. In this lesson, you'll learn more about identity covering, its place in the work environment, and how to eliminate the phenomenon.

Hiding in Plain Sight

A gay man won't bring his partner to the company Christmas party. A young woman struggling with a mental illness uses vacation days instead of revealing she's going to the doctor. A practicing Muslim goes to his car to pray. A working mom keeps photos of her kids off of her desk to appear more career-driven.

All of these people have at least one thing in common. According to the report Uncovering Talent, from the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion, they are part of the more than 60 percent of workers in the workforce today who participate in identity covering.

What Is Identity Covering?

Identity covering is the act of concealing something about one's self to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable or to lessen attention to a given characteristic. It's not about hiding something for untoward purposes, but downplaying pieces of your identity, such as race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, to avoid feelings of anxiety, frustration, fear, or something else.

While it may not seem significant to work performance or productivity, researchers have determined quite the opposite. Identity covering in the workplace can have detrimental effects on things like the amount of energy available to commit to workplace tasks. This might happen because a lot of employee's energy is devoted to concealing a persona or feelings of isolation. If an employee doesn't feel free to be themselves around their colleagues, they won't be effective at work.

Identity covering comes in a few forms:

  • How someone looks (Example: Not wearing religious garments in order to better blend in)
  • What someone is affiliated with (Example: Refusing to use the provided nursing room for a breastfeeding mother)
  • What someone keeps quiet about (Example: Overhearing a joke about a group you identify with, but saying nothing)
  • Who someone associates with (Example: Not signing up for a missions opportunity for fear of religious perceptions)

Identity Covering and Diversity

Not only can identity covering cause problems for an employee specifically, but it can create challenges for an employer's diversity and inclusion initiatives. After all, most companies are working toward being more inclusive and diverse in many of the same areas that its workers are concealing through identity covering.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace include things like recruiting and hiring from a diversified pool of talent, reaching out to specific minority groups, or developing diversity training programs to help educate employees about biases and cultural differences. Identity covering can also be detrimental to a company's overall productivity and achievement. When individuals feel they are stifled personally, this can impact their work professionally.

Without understanding fully who a company's employees are, it's impossible for management to accurately represent diverse backgrounds, recruit from needed minority groups, and conduct adequate training. It also impacts a company's culture because it presents the workplace as not being receptive or accepting of employees' differences.

Eliminating Identity Covering

To that end, it's important for companies to work toward eliminating identity covering in the workplace. There are some ways that managers and supervisors can help eliminate this phenomenon.

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