Employees, including white men, downplay identities to fit in at work


The rhetoric around DEI has changed, but how much have things actually changed for employees?

Deloitte and the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law collaborated on a study where they surveyed 1,269 employees across the United States about “covering,” or downplaying the marginalized parts of their identity to assimilate. The results were disheartening. When the study was first conducted 10 years ago, 61% of respondents said they “covered” at work. Today, 60% of respondents said they cover.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Employees with more marginalized identities are more likely to cover: 71% of employees with five or more marginalized identity affiliations reported covering, compared to employees with one to two marginalized identities.
  • Younger employees tend to cover more than older employees: 66% of millennials and 65% of Gen Z report covering, compared to 56% of Gen X and 49% of baby boomers.
  • People who aren’t marginalized also cover, especially if they are perceived as having privilege: 51% of people who don’t have a marginalized identity say they cover at work, and 54% of white men reported covering. “As a white man I try to avoid sharing any ‘struggles,’” one respondent wrote.
  • Covering comes with a cost: 74% of respondents said covering affected them negatively. Fifty-four percent said it impacted their ability to do their job, and 60% said they were emotionally drained from covering.

“When people have to work their identities instead of working their jobs, that can be a huge tax on them and on the organization because the organization is likely not going to get the best from them,” Kenji Yoshino, a professor at NYU and director of the Meltzer Center, wrote in a statement.


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