Updated: Oct 31, 2022
🎃👻🧟♀️🧟♂️🐈⬛🍬🍫 It's Halloween! Not a massive holiday in NZ - but massive for kids, uni students and adults alike in America.
I loved Halloween growing up. How thrilling to become a character or new person by changing your clothing, accessories, appearance, mannerisms, etc. And to be paid in chocolates and lollies? What's not to love?
But what about when this happens outside of Halloween?
What about when people change their clothing, accessories, appearance, mannerisms, etc. in order to be included at work?
When does this happen?
Here are some real life examples people have shared with us:
A female accountant with a naturally high-pitched voice lowering it at work
A gay person not inviting their partner to work events
A gay man 'lessening' his expressions and mannerisms to (in his words) "appear more straight"
A Muslim going to another floor for prayer, instead of using an open room on their floor
A Black woman feeling pressured to change her natural hair
An injured man avoiding using his cane so he doesn't appear "too old"
People hiding political or religious beliefs due to associated stereotypes
A younger worker afraid of looking "too casual" so dressing up beyond expectations
An older worker afraid of looking "too old" so dying their hair
Mothers avoiding talking about their children so they seem 'more committed'
61% of employees involved in the large global survey admit "covering" at least one Axis or element of their personality at work.
In work contexts this is often called covering. This term was coined in 1963 by sociologist Erving Goffman.
Covering is downplaying or hiding certain aspects of yourself so you don’t appear different. It’s a defence mechanism to avoid exclusion.
In 2006, Kenji Yoshino elaborated on the four main ways people cover aspects of themselves:
Appearance: change how they look and behave to blend in with the mainstream.
Affiliation: avoid behaviours widely associated with their identity, culture or group; often to negate stereotypes about that identity.
Advocacy: avoid engaging in advocacy on behalf of their group.
Association: avoid associating with other individuals in their own group (or participate in criticism of a group they belong to, thus disassociating).
This 2019 Deloitte report, Uncovering Talent, shares examples of covering under each of these banners.
What can we do about it?
While it's great to dress up on Halloween 🎭🎃👻 - it's not beneficial, helpful or healthy to do so every day at work.
We get the best out of people when they can proudly be themselves. Covering is the opposite of that. We want people to invest their energy and bandwidth on the work, not on altering and changing themselves.
Here are some actions we can take to help people feel comfortable to 'uncover' who they are:
Listen to understand. Like most things, this affects people differently. It's probably easier for me, as a straight white kidless woman, to be my full authentic self at work and not feel like this is negatively impacting people's view of me. Listen to the different experiences people have (inside and outside of work).
Try to consider why they feel like they can't bring their full selves or opinions. Observe what's happening at your workplace. Is there something happening in the work culture or context? What's making people feel uncomfortable? Are inappropriate comments and jokes not called out?
Celebrate the diversity people bring. Have individual and group activities which explores the diversity we all bring. (We like the ICES model of diversity) Celebrate and recognise what's important to people.
Lead by example. Uncover yourself. Show your authentic self. Be open about who you are and how that shows up at work - ask people what support they would need to do the same.
What else would you add?