Diversity is a near-universal value in corporate America, but the upper tiers of management remain stubbornly homogeneous. Consider Fortune 500 CEOs: Only 23 are female, just six are black, and none are openly gay. One reason for this may be “covering,” which is when people downplay their differences from the mainstream. Someone with a disability might forgo her cane at work. A gay man might avoid using “he” or “him” if asked about his partner.
This behavior can be driven by perceived pressure from management, which can also decrease employees’ confidence and engagement. Managers striving to assemble a truly talented team should be aware of how even unspoken demands to conform might affect morale. Eliminate these and find opportunities to model a more inclusive culture by “uncovering” yourself.
Adapted from “Fear of Being Different Stifles Talent” by Kenji Yoshino and Christie Smith.