As the authors of the Harvard Business Review article, “Fear of Being Different Stifles Talent,” point out, diversity is an almost universal value in corporate America today. However, the authors’ research proves employees still feel pressure to hide or “cover” some aspect of their individuality which they feel makes them different.
Examples of aspects which employees feel the need to cover include downplaying one’s age, ethnic background, parental status or physical disabilities. Employees want to blend into the crowd so as not to stand out.
Covering sounds like this:
I recently heard a Marketing Senior Manager say that she does not display pictures of her children on her desk at the office. She does not want people to think she focuses on her children at the expense of her job responsibilities. She does not want to miss out on opportunities at work because others think she will say “no” because of her responsibilities at home.
Our culture reinforces these same biases, so it should not come as a surprise that research shows these trends in the workplace. As much as people want to focus on competence, other factors continue to remain relevant.
A recent, very public example where an individual believed she may have experienced age discrimination, is Pam Oliver’s demotion from the top broadcasting crew with Fox’s NFL coverage on Sundays during football season. Oliver is now 53 years old and worked as a sideline reporter for 19 years. She believes she was replaced by younger talent in Erin Andrews, age 36. (For the record, Oliver does NOT believe the decision was related to race.)
When you stop and really think hard about it, what are you covering yourself?
What biases toward others are you conveying, either consciously or unconsciously, through your words and/or actions?
The authors of the Harvard Business Review article recommend the best way to encourage employees to uncover themselves is for managers and executives to lead by example. The more transparent you are, the more uncovered your employees will believe it safe to be as well.
The best thing you can do is talk about it. Open the dialogue with your team. You will learn from your team members and they will learn from you.
Betsy Winkler is Partner at People Results. She is a working mother of three who is also over age 40. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at email@example.com. Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.