Workplace Identity Struggles: Unveiling Workplace Authenticity

Oscar Wilde, the great Irish poet and playwright, may have said it best: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Workplace Identity Struggles. Diversity in the workplace.

But even in today’s working world, which has placed heightened emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, employees still are not being themselves, according to a recent study by Deloitte and the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at the New York University School of Law. According to the study, some 60% of respondents said they “cover” at work, which means they downplay the marginalized parts of their identity to fit in.

The really disheartening part of those results is that when the same study was conducted a decade ago, 61% said they cover at work. So, in 10 years, nothing has really changed.

Marginalized groups are those who are excluded or disempowered because of such factors as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability and language. And the more marginalized identities employees have, the more likely they are to cover, according to the study. Seventy-one percent of workers with five or more marginalized identities said they cover.

The study also found that more than half of people who aren’t marginalized, including white men, still cover at work to fit in.

Fast Company contributor Shalene Gupta, reporting on the study, wrote that covering comes with a cost. According to the study, she wrote, 74% of respondents said covering affected them negatively, and 54% said it impacted their ability to do their jobs. Sixty percent said they found covering to be emotionally draining.

What’s the takeaway?

Kenji Yoshino, an NYU professor and director of the Meltzer Center, wrote in a statement: “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.”

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