Understanding Covering in the Workplace

In today’s diverse and dynamic work environments, fostering a culture of inclusion and psychological safety is crucial. One often overlooked aspect of this challenge is “covering.” This blog will delve into what covering is, why people engage in it at work and its impact.

What is Covering?

Covering is a term coined by Ervin Goffman and later developed by Kenji Yoshino. It refers to downplaying or hiding one’s true identity, characteristics, or beliefs to conform to societal or workplace norms. This can involve concealing aspects of one’s race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other attributes to avoid potential bias, discrimination, or stereotypes.

The 2006 research by Kenji Yoshino expanded on this by splitting the concept into four axes;

  • Appearance-based covering: altering their self-presentation.
  • Affiliation-based covering: avoiding behaviours associated with their identity.
  • Advocacy-based covering: how much individuals stick up for their group.
  • Association-based covering: avoiding contact with other group members.

Why Do People Cover at Work?

Covering in the workplace is driven by various factors. Individuals often cover because they fear being judged, excluded, or passed over for opportunities due to their differences. The pressure to fit into organisational or societal norms can lead employees to suppress their authentic selves. This can be especially prevalent in workplaces where diversity and inclusion efforts are not well-established or unconscious bias persists.

The Impact of Covering

The consequences of covering are profound and detrimental to both individuals and organisations. When employees feel compelled to hide their true selves, it can decrease job satisfaction, lower morale, and reduce overall well-being. Moreover, covering stifles creativity and innovation by discouraging diverse perspectives and ideas from emerging.

From an organisational perspective, a covering culture can hinder productivity and collaboration. It also perpetuates a lack of diversity, as employees from underrepresented groups may feel discouraged from fully participating and contributing. In the long run, this can lead to high turnover rates, a damaged reputation, and legal challenges.

The Role of Conscious Inclusive Behaviour

Organisations and individuals must actively engage in conscious inclusive behaviour to combat covering and foster an inclusive culture. This involves acknowledging and valuing each employee’s unique identity and experiences. Leaders must create an environment where authenticity is celebrated, and differences are seen as assets.

Practising conscious, inclusive behaviour means actively listening to employees, promoting diverse voices in decision-making processes, and addressing unconscious biases. Workplaces should provide training and resources to help employees better understand the impact of covering and learn how to combat it.

The Importance of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is another essential pillar of combating covering. Employees should feel safe to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment. A psychologically safe environment encourages open communication and fosters trust among team members.

Creating a psychologically safe workplace involves building a culture of trust, empathy, and respect. Leaders can facilitate this by actively seeking feedback, addressing conflicts constructively, and promoting a growth mindset within the organisation.

To address the problem of covering, we must prioritise conscious, inclusive behaviour and psychological safety. Organisations and individuals alike must actively work towards creating environments where authenticity is celebrated, differences are valued, and everyone can thrive.

By partnering with organisations like Mahogany, we can take significant steps towards building a more inclusive and equitable future for all. We empower organisations to create cultures that value diversity, inclusion, and psychological safety and empower people to foster these cultures through workshops, training, and consulting services.