Waiting to be Uncovered

In 1963, Erving Goffman, an American sociologist, coined the term “covering.” He described it as the efforts people make to keep their stigmatized identities hidden. He indicated that one of the most visible acts of covering was when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be seated early at the table prior to a Cabinet Meeting in order to hide the sight of his wheel chair.

The Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion released a report a year ago that shows that many of us in the workplace are acting like President Roosevelt. 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.

Sadly, this American Indian must add his name to the list of people above who must leave a portion of themselves at the door when they come to work:

(1) When attending a staff meeting of people I don’t know, I pull my long hair back in a ponytail so it does not call attention to my identity.
(2) I bite my tongue during football season as colleagues rant and rave about their favorite professional football team accompanied by an American Indian mascot, logo or team description.
(3) I hesitate to display my Tribal cultural identity in my cubicle in order to fit in with my non-Indian colleagues.
(4) I am reticent to give advice on American issues in fear of acquiring the reputation of a complainer or whiner when it comes to the conditions of others like me in the workplace.
(5) I shudder when asked to talk about American Indian issues and become worried I may misrepresent some of the diverse values of other American Indian tribes.
(6) I get tied tongue when asked by a non-American Indian, “Are you a real Indian.” When answering yes, having to to respond to the next question, “Prove it.”
(7) I debate whether or not to write blog posts about American Indians since they seem to garner very little comments or interest.
(8) I am afraid to question my workplace on American Indian issues in fear that I will be seen as needy or even incompetent.

Constitutional law professor, Kenji Koshino, one of the authors of the Deloitte report, calls covering the “hidden assault on our civil rights.” He reminds us that the 1963 Civil Rights Act does not address covering. He indicates the judicial system has interpreted this statute based on status and not how we behave around each other.

Christie Smith who co-authored the Deloitte report with Koshino points out that people who have to cover in the workplace essentially work two jobs. They have to work their identity and their job. As a result, colleagues and customers only receive half of the attention from these employees which drives down engagement and customer service.

Can we start building workplaces where everyone can meet their full potential and bring their full selves to work every day? Isn’t it time we get from under the covers.

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