Diversity and Inclusion initiatives work at the very heart of employment engagement – Identity of a person and their expression of the same in the social context.
Organizations typically undertake multiple initiatives in what is usually counted as staff welfare – well-appointed workspaces, performance related rewards and recognition, social engagements and benefits like insurance, medical assistance and leaves. Many of these deliver benefits at a broad level targeting majority groups within an organization. For example, maternity and paternity leaves are targeting towards new parents (mid management) and insurance covers most of the common illnesses.
None of these benefits would deliver value to employees who do not feel safe to bring their whole self to workplace. Imagine a transgender who wishes to apply for leave to undergo gender reassignment surgery or a gay person wishing to bring their partner over for a company function. These situations could pose a psychological threat or at least significant stress for the employee.
They may then resort to hiding or not revealing their true self and live with what is commonly called “identity cover”. It is necessary that the Diversity and Inclusion consider the negative effects of identity cover on the individuals belonging to the minority groups. Such individuals show lower level of engagement at workplace as they are more likely to leave their jobs when the identity cover is under threat.
Because employees experiencing “identity cover crisis” tend to commit their cognitive energy into constructing and maintaining the cover, they may commit less to workplace tasks thereby reducing their productivity and decreasing loyalty and engagement.
Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives – Identity Covers
Identity cover could be of multiple types and understanding these is important in order to assist employees from diverse groups feel more engaged at workplace.
- Appearance: The first and most common identity cover is the “cover of appearance”. A person who likes to wear tattoos may prefer to wear full sleeve shirt and hide their tattoos to avoid being perceived as someone masculine, dominant and carefree. Other common appearance covers involves altering one’s preferred attire in order to blend with the mainstream.
- Affiliation: Identities are often stereotyped. People hailing from America are stereotypically expected to be more expressive and flamboyant than the Japanese. By modifying behaviors in order to negate the stereotypes, people avoid showing affiliation to a certain identity or group. This is called the Affiliation cover. For example, a woman may refuse to sign up for a “grooming” session at workplace in order to avoid the stereotypical behaviours associated with “women and grooming”.
- Advocacy: When people do not stand up for people who share one of their identities, they resort to what is called advocacy cover. For example, a gay person may choose to remain silent or participate in a joke on a gay employee.
- Association: By avoiding public contact with those sharing one of their identities, people may disassociate or hide an aspect of their identity. For example, a gay person may refuse to attend a gay parade that the organization is participating to cover their sexual preference.
Identity cover is detrimental to both the individual who struggles to maintain their cover and the organization as the individual’s focus is on the cover rather than job related tasks. This reduces productivity and enhances the chances of attrition.
Diversity and Inclusion initiatives must sensitize the leaders on the relevance of identity and safety in employee engagement. While the leaders may be committed to providing a host of benefits to their employees, true employee engagement happens when leaders and managers are tuned into the dilemmas, needs and wants of all diverse groups. By engaging in focus group discussions, one to one conversation and continuously assessing employee morale, leaders can create an organization that enable employees to express their identities the way it is and thereby get more engaged and committed to their work.