Choose your language:
Oct. 1, 2017
By Lisa Dare
Ravi Godhwani had a problem: After working for two months at TEKsystems, he didn’t want to tell his office mates they were pronouncing his name incorrectly.
Hired as an IT recruiter right out of college, Ravi didn’t know what to expect in his first professional workplace. So, in an effort to fit in, he let his colleagues go on mispronouncing his name for months until his boss overheard his girlfriend pronounce his name “Ruh-vee.” The next morning, Ravi’s boss corrected everyone. His teammates promptly apologized and started saying his name the right way.
But Ravi remembers thinking, “Well, this is just how the corporate world is, you hide part of yourself to fit in.” He'd been struggling to figure out how to correct his team after so much time had passed, but he also worried about being able to genuinely connect with Indian IT consultants when he mispronounced his own name.
“I didn’t want to speak up and correct people at work because I was the new kid and I was already different,” Ravi explained. “There was maybe one other person of color in the office, a Hispanic woman, but she’d been there 11 years and had earned her place.”
What Ravi didn’t know is that while experiences like his are more significant for members of underrepresented groups, most people cover at work, including 45 percent of straight white men. For instance, younger workers downplay their age or resist acting in a way they think reinforces stereotypes. Millennials know their reputation, and they’re so scared to play into negative stereotypes they won’t often speak up when they have a good idea.
People even hide things they’re proud of, like being a parent or veteran.
“I was in the Marine Corps for 12 years, and my body took a beating,” says Adam, a healthcare recruiter for TEKsystems. He suffers problems like a bulging disc and crippling migraines, but he didn’t want anyone to know he receives disability pay from the Marines. “Most veterans are very closed about that because there’s a stigma around it, like people wonder if you have PTSD. I don’t ever want anyone to think because I forget something one day, that it’s because of a disability,” says Adam.
Ian Moses, a diversity manager for TEKsystems, built a workshop to help employees understand covering and to start uncovering. It’s based on the work of Kenji Yoshino, an influential Yale professor who studied the phenomenon.
“We started doing the workshop because we had a lot of low-identity people who covered parts of themselves. For example, some women felt they needed to display masculine qualities to fit in and get ahead. We wanted to help them understand why they covered," says Ian. “But the more we did the workshop, the more we realized just about everyone is covering something, whether it’s a disability like dyslexia or political beliefs, and it clicked that this insight could help our inclusion programs feel more inclusive—to everyone.”
Diversity and Inclusion Director Franklin Reed agrees. “We’d been trying to figure out a way to bring straight, white men into the inclusion conversation, and the covering workshop absolutely does that.”
Simply put, covering takes a lot of emotional work, which is energy being diverted away from working smarter and performing at a high level. We've seen the difference firsthand in our offices.
Chris Silman, the director of our Dallas East office, is enthusiastic about how the inclusion programming has improved his team’s performance.
“The surveys going in vs. out tell a great story—we’re building an awareness that we all have a lot more in common than different. It has absolutely accelerated the relationship-building process, and our teams are working together on new business opportunities they used to compete for, partnering in a way we hadn’t seen before.”
Karrington Adams, an account manager in our Kansas City office, says the covering workshop has helped bring her team closer. “Since the workshop, our team has been on a great streak of hitting goals, and our newer staff are growing exceptionally, contributing a lot to team.”
These business results—and the emotional benefits inclusion programming has brought—probably explain why our Diversity and Inclusion team is getting inundated with requests for the workshop.
“I’ve received emails and even handwritten letters from individuals who were very hesitant to attend because they worry about the repercussions about being overly associated with their group, but later said, ‘This has been the most impactful workshop I’ve ever attended,’” says Reed.
“And several offices are requesting we conduct this workshop. We just can’t keep up,” adds Moses.
You can find out more about the concept of covering in this paper (PDF): Uncovering talent A new model of inclusion. We’ll be talking more about this concept and sharing what we’ve learned in upcoming posts, so stay tuned. In the meantime, read more in our diversity and inclusion in tech series: