At our recent Talent Showcase event, Liz Grant OBE, Director at Fantail Business Development, talked about the importance of workplace diversity. To follow this up, she has now written this exclusive blog about why we should all be proud to show our true selves in the workplace.
The major part of my career has been spent in the technology sector and as the internet was being unleashed upon the world a form of web development tool came with it. We referred to it as WYSIWYG (pronounced “wiz-ee-wig”) – ‘what you see is what you get’. It meant that as web development took place you could see the end product clearly as you were going.
It seems to me that people are not so simple. In fact, often when you physically see someone or encounter them virtually, you don’t fully get what you see. People are complicated animals. Most of us spend some of our time deliberately trying not to reveal everything about us to everyone we meet.
Some of that is just natural self-protection. However, when there is a particular aspect of our make-up that we remain intent upon holding back or hiding, we can encounter difficulties. In the workplace this holding back is referred to as ‘Covering’.
And we may cover for many different reasons. Generally, we are concerned that the private information we hold may be mishandled by others and the outcome detrimental to us personally. Let me give you an example. If I have a psychological illness such as clinical depression I might not disclose this readily as experience tells me that people make judgements that may be disadvantageous to me. They might not give me an opportunity at work because they think I may not be able to handle it.
Similarly, people might cover about home demands they have. If you have caring responsibilities, looking after older family members, you might not want to share that information as others will think you leave work early (to attend to caring duties) and may not be as committed to your work.
Some people deliberately distance themselves from groups that they are a part of, because they don’t want others to assume they reflect the stereotypical views others might have of that group. Members of ethnic communities sometimes do this. Sometimes gay and lesbian people do it too. They believe the stigma which such groups experience is a threat to them personally and they stand back deliberately from associating with others like them.
In 2013, Deloitte published a study on Covering in the Workplace which explained that the impact of Covering is far and wide affecting many of us, including the archetypal straight white middle-class man. So what is the downside to all of this? Isn’t it just personal and private information that individuals should be able to hold close to themselves?
To some extent yes, I understand that. But here’s the rub…. The very act of Covering holds people back from being totally themselves. And this in turn means they are not able to be the best they can be. They put too much energy into Covering up something they think others will view negatively. That results in a loss of being completely at ease with who you are and 100% authentic to others.
Other research shows that in the workplace this means people are not as productive. The distraction of Covering stops them from doing their best work. So commercially for business owners that’s a loss of business delivery – less performance, less creativity, less collaboration.
For individuals, it’s much much deeper. The opportunity of being yourself lifts a veil from how we present to others. Removing your Cover is like letting the light in. It stops all those little internal arguments going through your mind and releases you to be the person you are. And there’s no greater joy than being at ease with who you are.