Report Finds 65% Of Black Professionals ‘Cover’ Authentic Selves At Work

Report Finds 65% Of Black Professionals ‘Cover’ Authentic Selves At Work

Black people are still code-switching in the workplace.

While 60% of employees report masking their identities in the workplace, the incidence of “covering” is higher for Black workers, according to a new report from Deloitte’s DEI Institute.

The institute partnered with the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law to conduct a study titled Uncovering Culture. Within the past 12 months, three-fifths out of 1,269 adult survey respondents engaged in “covering” behaviors. Out of the group, 65% of Black respondents reported doing so. The research confirms a similar percentage in 2013, highlighting the stark reality that workers continue to cover or code-switch at work to avoid negative stereotypes and to be seen as competent and valuable.

“Because covering is, by definition, an attempt to downplay an identity to blend into the mainstream, it is not surprising that survey respondents from non-dominant groups in the workplace generally reported higher rates of covering than those from majority or dominant groups,” the report stated.

Furthermore, all Black LGBTQIA+ workers surveyed reported covering, and Black workers with disabilities reported covering at an extremely high rate of 93% compared to 60% of white workers with disabilities. Nearly 2.5 million working-age Black adults in the United States have a disability, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey 2021 reported.

For Dr. D’Arcee Neal, a Black, gay, disabled professor of English, it was no easy journey navigating a “high-powered federal position” after he was onboarded as a “super-diversity hire” in 2015.

“Blackness and disability had gotten me the job initially as a “super diversity hire,” which I overheard when they thought no one was listening, but it had also cornered me into an impossible position of silence and discomfort that demanded I do everything possible to keep my supervisors happy, at least initially. Even when situations arose where they were squarely in the wrong, I remained unable to speak,” Neal recalled in The Disability & Philanthropy Forum.

The report outlined behaviors defined into four categories.

  • Appearance-based: Research supports that Black professionals feel pressure to change aspects of their behavior or appearance to blend into mainstream and corporate cultures.
  • Affiliation-based: Whether it’s to minimize an accent or to check certain traits at the office door, Black people tend to code-switch, most often to negate common stereotypes.
  • Advocacy-based: With ongoing fears of discrimination and unconscious bias in the workplace, Black employees also fear defending or promoting the interests of one’s group.
  • Association-based: A person of color who practices association-based coverage might purposefully distance themselves from colleagues of the same racial or ethnic background.

Among the respondents, the report found that workers who cover at work experienced a negative impact on their well-being, commitment to their organization, and job performance.

According to researcher and author George Paasewe, the need to cover can be burdensome, especially among people of color. 

“Code-switching is a tool anyone can use to break the communication barrier and make new connections with people outside of their race, ethnicity, and culture,” Paasewe said, as BE reported.

“Language differences between cultures can serve as a roadblock. In these instances, code-switching has value because it allows one to participate in the larger, more diverse community.”

To address these concerns, Deloitte’s DEI Institute suggested three practical solutions that leaders can implement immediately to help build an “uncovering culture.” They call on organizations to diagnose organizational covering demands, share their stories, and participate in active allyship.