B Proud, Bridgewater’s LGBTQ+ network, invited Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law, to discuss “covering” in the workplace. Professor Yoshino outlined many of the different ways that individuals downplay parts of their identity in an effort to “fit in” in the workplace. He emphasized that the demand to cover is not limited to those who identify as LGBTQ+ or to any other specific group — it is something many people experience in one way or another.
Through the lens of rigorous research and analysis, coupled with his personal experience as a gay Asian-American, he examined the way covering shows up in different industries and contexts. In a workplace it might look like a woman downplaying that she has children or caregiver responsibilities, a gay person minimizing the mention of their partner’s gender, or an immigrant avoiding speaking any language other than English. The cues that encourage people to cover are often subtle but there are several strategies that help disrupt those signals at work.
Professor Yoshino invited organizations to investigate how certain behaviors and stylistic choices are rewarded or penalized within their firm and assess whether those patterns reinforce or detract from their culture and values. He encouraged attendees to practice the Platinum Rule: treat others the way they would like to be treated and to approach allyship with the mindset that “mistakes are invitations to learn.” These strategies can help foster an “active climate” of engagement and ensure people don’t experience the demand to choose between embracing their identity and being included.