Keeping It Not So Real At Work

When the late rhythm and blues and soul singer, Percy Sledge released his top 100 hit in 1967 entitled “Cover Me,” I doubt he ever realized that the verb in the title of this song would have workplace implications.

The Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion released a report a year ago that indicates workers are covering in the workplace but not like Percy Sledge intended. 61% of persons in the workplace “cover” by not bringing their full selves to work. This number included 83% of GLBTQ individuals, 79% of Blacks, 67% of women of color, 63% of Hispanics, 66% of women and 45% of straight white men.

Frank Kalman of Media Tec Publishing points out that covering can manifest itself in a number of ways. A black woman may feel like she has to straighten her hair to fit into the workplace. A gay man may be hesitant to put up pictures of his partner on his desk. A woman may sense she cannot talk about how it feels to be a mother around male teammates. A male employee may not feel comfortable telling male co-workers about his daughter’s after school activities. An American Indian/Alaska Native employee may be uncertain about criticizing American Indian sports mascots, logos and team descriptions in cities like Chicago, IL, Kansas City, MO, Atlanta, GA or Washington, DC.

David Rock, author of book, “Your Brain at Work” points out that the emotional pain of not being fully accepted at work provokes the same reaction in the brain caused by physical pain. Essentially, not fully embracing the stories of our colleagues is the equivalent of hitting them in the mouth.

If Geoff Tomlin of Mouthpiece Consulting is right that it takes 5 good interactions to overcome 1 bad interaction with our colleagues, we will be digging out of a deep hole with our co-workers who don’t feel safe at work.

As an American Indian/Alaska Native federal government employee, I have received these kinds of negative messages throughout my career. Some include:

• When I see you, I don’t view you as an American Indian/Alaska Native. Message- your racial experience is not valid here because I am colorblind to your existence.
• You are so articulate for an American Indian/Alaska Native. Message- it is unusual for someone like you to be intelligent so I am basing your intelligence level on the rest of your racial group.

For individuals covering in a workplace, don’t expect much relief from equal employment opportunity laws and regulations. The Supreme Court in its 2006 Burlington Northern vs. White decision decreed that micro-inequities such as petty slights and rude behavior don’t normally rise to the legal definition of discrimination.

Jorge Cherbosque, emotional intelligence guru describes what a workplace looks like when our personal stories are fully embraced:

• You get me and know who I am.
• You value me and show it a way that I can understand.
• You have my back and are there for me.
• I feel safe because I can bring my full self to work.

I wish you the best of luck in finding that workplace where you can show up as your full self. When you find it, do you mind letting the rest of know where it is.

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Elizabeth Henley

This is really great! I never thought about “covering” in this way. Thank you. Not only will I now think about myself and how I cover, but also about my co-workers and their need(s), conscious and unconscious, to cover.