What is ‘covering’ and how does it impact career growth?

Kyle Carney

Even in an age of remote work, the workplace is becoming a more and more diverse place. The cultural diversity found in the workplace is allowing companies and corporations to expand their business relationships, improve their products and streamline their processes. While all of these outcomes are positive, diversity in the workplace can also have some negative outcomes if cultural training is not part of a company's onboarding process.

One of the possible negative outcomes in a more culturally diverse workplace is ‘covering’. Many people working in a culturally diverse workplace tend to ‘cover’ parts of their cultural identity to better fit in with those around them.

Why do many employees ‘cover’ at work?

The need to fit in is a well-documented psychological part of the human experience. When it comes to the workplace, it can feel even more important to fit in with those around us. While many employees want to stand out for their work, standing out for cultural reasons can be seen as an obstacle, rather than an opportunity.

In order to better fit in with their colleagues, many people choose to ‘cover’ part of their cultural identities. This includes:

  • How people dress
  • What people display on their desks
  • How people speak
  • What topics people choose to talk about

In many ways, it can be difficult to even know that people are ‘covering’.

How does ‘covering’ impact job performance?

When employees do not feel completely comfortable at work, it will inevitably impact their job performance. It can lead to people being distracted or less confident in sharing their work. Rather than being completely focused on their work, they can focus on how they are being perceived by their colleagues.

For these employees, they may also try to leave their cultural knowledge out of their work. In many respects, having a broad range of cultural perspectives included is vital for businesses to grow; however, when employees don’t feel comfortable fully expressing their cultural identities, that aspect of their work is lost, which impacts the overall effectiveness of the entire company.

How can company’s help employees stop ‘covering’?

Until employees feel fully comfortable in the workplace, they will continue to ‘cover’ parts of their cultural identities. To make employees feel comfortable, it is important to include cultural diversity training in the onboarding process and ongoing support for inclusion and diversity training. This training is important for every level of a company, from leadership on down.

This training will make all employees aware that cultural diversity is not only accepted, but is encouraged. It makes employees confident that they can be themselves and will be accepted for who they are.

The workplace is continuing to become more diverse. People from different backgrounds, religions, cultures and locations are all working in the same meetings, teams and departments. This shift is designed to make businesses more efficient and innovative, but this is only possible if all employees feel comfortable bringing their cultural identities to work. In order to make employees comfortable and allow them to stop ‘covering’, businesses need to incorporate cultural diversity training in their onboarding process, as well as inclusion and diversity initiatives in their long-term plans.

Interested in learning more about culture? Contact us to find out more about our cross-cultural trainings.


Share this