It seems that everywhere we turn these days, we run into one more book or article that speaks to “hiding” at work, or “covering up” who we really are when we walk into the door at work. A brief exploration of this phenomenon may offer up some clues as to what we are hiding from, and how we might create organizations where we can all show up at work in the fullness of our humanity.
In his brilliant and vastly popular 2014 book, Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux claims that, “Historically, organizations have always been places where people showed up wearing a mask, both in an almost literal and in a figurative sense.” He cites the many instances where people have been and are actually required to show up in a sort of disguise, wearing the robe of a bishop, the white coat of a physician, or the suit of the typical business executive. The uniform, he says, is actually “a claim the organization makes on the person: while you wear this uniform, you don’t fully belong to yourself. You are to behave and show up not as yourself, but in certain pre-determined, acceptable ways.”
In addition to modes of dress, Laloux describes the invisible professional masks that are the adornment of many in the workplace, serving to help them conform to explicit and implicit expectations. In most cases, he writes, “it means showing a masculine resolve, displaying determination and strength, hiding doubts and vulnerability. The feminine aspects of the self― the caring, questioning, inviting ― are often neglected or dismissed. Rationality is valued above all other forms of intelligence; in most workplaces the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual parts of ourselves feel unwelcome, out of place.”
In their March 2016 book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, Harvard researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey write about a different kind of covering up, one that they refer to as “the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day.” Most people, they say, are actually engaged in doing a “second job no one is paying them for,” one in which they “are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.”
A study by the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion recently brought the work of Kenji Yoshino to our attention. Yoshino, a Professor of Law at NYU, is also the author of a 2006 book, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. The book is a combination “legal manifesto and poetic memoir,” in which Yoshino draws on his own personal experiences as a gay Asian American man to make the case for a “redefinition of civil rights in our law and culture.”
The Deloitte study, co-authored by Yoshino and the Leadership Center’s Christie Smith, measured the degree to which individuals engage in covering at work, along four axes identified by Yoshino: Appearance, Affiliation, Advocacy, and Association. What they found is astounding: Fully 61% of the employees surveyed “reported covering along at least one axis at work. Eighty-three percent of LGB individuals, 79 percent of Blacks, 67 percent of women of color, 66 percent of women, and 63 percent of Hispanics cover.” Even 45 percent of straight white men reported covering of some kind.
Hiding or covering in the workplace is obviously an enormous issue that costs people and organizations dearly in monetary, as well as personal and societal terms. Fortunately, the publications above, as well as our own book, The Transformative Workplace (www.transformativeworkplace.com), are offering dozens of examples of organizations with the wisdom to invite people to be more fully human in the workplace.
There is a great deal more to be said about this topic, and we’ll be writing more about it in the near future. In the meantime, we would love to hear your views and stories!
Read a lovely new review of our book by Nancy Southern in the Integral Leadership Review at http://integralleadershipreview.com/14621-carole-and-david-schwinn/.