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Covering definition: what is covering?

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Covering definition

The term “covering” comes from the general sense of the verb cover, which means to hide from view. This term was popularised in the context of a workplace by an Author Kenji Yoshino in his 2006 book Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights. Modern usage of the term frequently implies either downplaying or concealing one’s identity, or one or more parts of it. 

Covering happens in the workplace, mostly by those who want to blend in with their coworkers in order to avoid standing out as “different” from the majority group. According to The Uncovering Talent report by Deloitte, which polled 3,000 employees from a variety of backgrounds, more than 61% of workers reported having covered at least once. Additionally, the poll found that more than 83% of LGBT employees have been covering in the workplace at least once. 

Types of covering include:  

  • Association-based covering: for example, not wanting to go to employee network groups out of concern that they will be placed in a certain category (usually one that is quite restrictive), exposed and subjected to discrimination. 
  • Appearance: employees may avoid wearing certain attire or religious symbols in order to fit in with the wider workforce.  
  • Advocacy-based covering: Employees may not "stick up for" problems or coworkers if they do not wish to represent their group at work.  
  • Affiliation-based covering: This relates to behaviours more in line with specific actions, such as talking about identity-related events in a way that avoids being exposed. 

Real-world context

  • Wellbeing: When employees feel the need to cover in the workplace, it acts as a sign of lack of inclusion and belonging which can be detrimental to one’s wellbeing. Employees who already don't feel like they belong grow more and more estranged from their jobs and coworkers when they experience stress or burnout.  
  • Productivity: On the other hand, when workers have a sense of community at work, they typically feel engaged and supported, even in stressful situations, and their work style reflects this. Regardless of the situation, they are more likely to lean into a collaboration and be committed to working as a team to produce their best work. 
  • Sense of purpose & retention: It is not surprising that workers who cover believe that they cannot be themselves at work or that there is a great deal of risk involved in being themselves. As a result, their sense of purpose is negatively impacted and they are more likely to leave the workplace where they feel like they do not belong. Encouraging employees to be themselves will create a greater connection with the company and its purpose, in turn, ensuring that employees are more willing to stay in the company in the long run.  

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