How “Covering” Impacts Retention


An inclusive work environment means that individuals feel comfortable bringing their full, authentic selves to work.

In 1963, sociologist Erving Goffman coined the term “covering” to describe how individuals go to great lengths to minimize certain stigmas about themselves. In his 2006 book “Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights”, Kenji Yoshino, currently a professor at NYU Law, gave structure to Goffman’s “covering” along four axes (NY Times article for a quicker read):

  • Appearance: Altering how you dress or groom e.g. a woman dressing more masculine

  • Affiliation: Avoiding behaviors e.g. not discussing religious practices or holidays  

  • Advocacy: Not standing up for your group e.g. not pushing back on an inappropriate joke about gender or race

  • Association: Avoiding contact with other group members e.g. a gay person not bringing their partner to work events

Along these same lines, Deloitte published a report in 2013 focusing on whether employees feel the need to “cover” -- even within organizations that aim to be “inclusive”. In Deloitte’s study, 93% of respondents said that their organization stated inclusion as one of their values, and yet:

  • 61% reported covering at work and that it is detrimental to their sense of self

  • 53% respondents stated that their leaders “consciously or unconsciously have an expectation that their employees will cover,” and that this expectation affects their sense of opportunities available to them

As a result, 50% of respondents said this expectation by leaders has affected their sense of commitment to the organization.

That’s a lot of numbers, but it boils down to one thing: If employees don’t feel comfortable being their true selves at work, they are less likely to be satisfied with their work and less likely to continue working at that company.

If you’re interested in making your company more inclusive, check out 7 Ways to Create a More Inclusive Culture, subscribe to our newsletter or schedule a time to talk with us.

Rumblesum is a mobile platform that builds more inclusive cultures through competitions, photo-sharing, games, in-person activities and interest-group management.

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