drwex (drwex) wrote,

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"Covering", and inclusion and diversity


Kenji Yoshino presents a very concise summary of research findings on inclusion, diversity, and 'covering' in the workforce. Big Think has been a hit-or-miss series for me, but this one speaks well. Covering, as Yoshino defines it in his original 2007 book of the same name, is "downplay[ing] a disfavored trait so as to blend into the mainstream." Back in the day we used to call it "passing" when it meant hiding our leathers and our pictures of our same-sex partners. (For the record, Yoshino is an out gay Asian-American who has been quite vocal in writing legal theories and arguments in favor of equal marriage.)

Yoshino's research argues that although organizations have to some degree valued diversity and the benefits that supposedly flow from it, they've done things to counteract that by requiring people to cover up the identities that come from that diversity. People are penalized for expressing their non-mainstream identities. This covering harm is most often felt by groups that are struggling for acceptance and equality in the workplace - notably women, people of color, and LGB persons. That is, you may be recruited by an organization that is attempting to diversify its population but once in there you find you cannot express the identity that you associate with the important elements of your non-mainstream self. Yoshino's research argues that this requirement to cover (up) identity harms the goals of diversity: if everyone speaks, acts, and seems more like the straight white male majority what's the point of having a diverse group in the first place?

He then moves to a more startling finding, which is that 45% of straight white men they studied reported covering at work as well. These people who are the epitomes of what people are supposed to cover up and be more like in fact also cover: their religions, politics, veteran or disability status, mental or physical illness, and so on. Unsurprisingly, the straight white men who report covering also report the same negative and harmful consequences as are felt by the people in non-mainstream groups.

The implication of this is deep and his call to re-think what diversity and inclusion mean resonates very strongly with me. I'm definitely not out as bi in any meaningful context, and even though I have pictures of both my wife and my girlfriend on my desk I don't draw attention to my non-mainstream lifestyle. I've gotten really good at passing; maybe that's not such a good thing.
Tags: thinky stuff
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