When employees hear about diversity and inclusivity at work, it can be difficult to realise how it applies to everyone. These topics are usually reserved for minority groups and inherently focus on policies rather than practice. But recent research is suggesting that diversity policies may not be enough to truly influence workplace relations.
Diversity needs to be enacted
A 2006 study published in the American Sociological Review was the first to consider the effectiveness of three common ways private sector companies address diversity. Leadership diversity training proved to be the least effective, while establishing responsibility amongst leaders and employees empirically resulted in the broadest organisation changes.
Responsibility, in this instance, is about proving that what you say about diversity is true with your behaviour. It's walking the talk and is imperative to getting the most out of all of your employees.
You may assume that you do this already, but a recent Deloitte survey revealed that while 93 per cent of companies articulated inclusivity as an organisational value, only 78 per cent of employees felt that their organisation's claims are actually enacted.
The Harvard Business Review elucidated why companies should actually enforce their diversity pledges. According to the 2014 article, leading companies recognise that diversity brings in multiple perspectives that subsequently reduce the likelihood of missing new opportunities or threats.
Workplaces that encourage concealment may actually be harming their employees and their bottom line.
Covering differences at work
The aforementioned Deloitte study addressed what drives people to hide parts of who they are at work, referred to as covering. First devised in 2006 by Kenji Yoshino, the New York University law professor theorised the reasons why employees hide aspects of who they are. These range from altering one's appearance (such as concealing a tattoo) to hiding what someone does in their personal life (such as ballroom dancing or going to church), to withdrawing deeply held views and hiding other important associations (such as political opinions or not bringing a same-sex partner to an office event).
Covering may sound like a part of work life and a pragmatic way to prevent unneeded discrimination. So is it really an issue?
Well, other research found that workers who consciously concealed certain aspects of themselves performed significantly worse than those who could be open and honest in various scenarios. Researchers Clayton Critcher and Melissa Ferguson explained how workplaces that encourage concealment may actually be harming their employees as well as their bottom line, concluding that whether it is implicit or explicit, these sorts of environments "may prevent people from performing optimally."
Discouraging the status quo
The Deloitte study found that between between 60 and 73 per cent of the professionals who reported covering stated that it was extremely detrimental to their sense of self, and 75 and 82 per cent believed that if they didn't hide certain aspects of their personal lives and personality, their career security would be compromised. Unsurprisingly, covering was far more common in those with socially stigmatised identities. For instance, the highest occurrence was in LGBT individuals with 83 per cent reporting covering. Two-thirds of women also did, but even 45 per cent of straight white men cover in some form or another too, though this was the lowest figure for any segment.
It's an epidemic, but it isn't anything new.
Professional expectations often insinuate that fitting in at work and being like everyone else is the only vehicle to success. Many of us have worn a uniform at some point, so the idea of blurring the lines that differentiate everyone to avoid showcasing individual characteristics is not unfamiliar. In fact, it is conspicuous in many organisational cultures.
But the fact remains that practises that encourage covering and concealment damage staff engagement.
If you want to find out how you can do diversity right and truly reap the benefits from your team, have a chat with one of our HR consultants today.