Authentic Diversity

Is your workplace

Imperfectly Average


“Perfectly Unique” ?

The “ideal” of inclusion has been to allow individuals to bring their authentic selves to work. However, the majority of initiatives have not explicitly addressed the pressure to conform; preventing employees from realizing that ideal.

The Leadership Center for Inclusion at Deloitte University performed a study to research the hypothesis that a model of inclusion, which analyzed the pressure to “fit in,” might benefit traditionally under-represented groups.  With the understanding that everyone has an authentic self; the researchers theorized that a culture of greater authenticity would be likely to benefit all workers, including straight white men, who have for the most part, been absent from the inclusion paradigm. To test the theory, the researchers explored the concept of “covering.”

The term “covering” was coined by sociologist Erving Goffman to describe how individuals with known stigmatized identities make a “great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.”  He suggested that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ensured he was always seated behind a table before his Cabinet entered the room.  Everyone knew he was in a wheelchair; however he “covered” his disability to ensure it did not influence the interaction.


The study points out that “Covering” differs from “passing.”  When individual pass, they are working to ensure others are unaware of a particular aspect of their identities.  When an individual covers, that aspect of their identity has been exposed, however, the individual strives to mute its significance. Covering is much more common, because while only some groups have the capacity to pass, all groups have the capacity to cover.  The majority of individuals with mental disorders are likely to do both.

The issue was not formal inclusion.  None of the individuals complained of exclusion from a particular work situation.  The concern was not whether they were “included,” but on what terms they felt their inclusion rested.  Their perceived social contract involved managing aspects of their identity in a way the dominant group did not have to; they had to work their identities alongside their jobs.

covering box 2

The results were published in Uncovering Talent – A new model of inclusionThe Harvard Business Review (HBR) presented the findings in an article by Kenji Yoshino and Christie Smith, entitled Fear of Being Different Stifles Talent

The report suggests,
“Asking the right questions about the pressure to conform can provide organizations with fresh insights about those populations.” 

The report reinforces the notion that
“as the workforce becomes more diverse, the pressure to conform – real or perceived – will be felt ever more keenly.”

The survey of 3,000 diverse employees in more than 20 large U.S. firms, all proclaiming an emphasis on inclusion, revealed that 61% of the workers (within 10 industries) said they had faced overt or implicit pressure to cover up in some way to fit in at work, whether it was a disability, their religion, their sexuality, or the members of their team.  Not only is it uncomfortable and unhealthy, but it’s also a primary cause of low productivity.

Of the employees who felt pressured to hide some aspect of their identity, 66% said that it significantly undermined their sense of self.  Fifty-one percent said perceived demands for covering from leadership affected their view of opportunities within the organization, and 50% indicated that they diminished their sense of commitment.

The HBR declares, “Diversity is a near-universal value in corporate America, but the upper tiers of management remain stubbornly homogeneous.”  Although covering was more prevalent among traditionally underrepresented groups, including gays (83%), blacks (79%), women (66%), Hispanics (63%), and Asians (61%), there was a surprising incidence among straight white men.

45% of straight white men revealed that they
downplayed characteristics
about themselves, such as age,
physical disabilities, and mental health issues.

Managers striving to develop a truly diverse set of leaders should recognize the fallout of even unspoken demands to conform and work to eliminate them. Just as important, they should look for opportunities to model a more authentic, inclusive culture by “uncovering” themselves.  With the proper training & development programs, companies can help people be their best selves at work; ultimately increasing productivity for the organization as a whole.

According to Diane Mottl in Ways of Living an Authentic Life;

When we are both living from our authentic selves,
our differences do not frighten or challenge us.  There are no judgments.
I honor the authentic you and you honor the authentic me.

authentic Diversity

Be Counted!  Illuminate Mental Diversity at Work.
There is safety (AND strength) in numbers. “All for one, and one for all.”

Suggestions, feedback, comments, and questions welcomed at

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© October 2015


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