True Colors

Gay people still can’t be themselves at work

Even in 2023, queer people are still hiding their true selves in the workplace, says a new study from Deloitte.

The report, titled “Uncovering culture: A call to action for leaders,” surveyed more than 1,200 adult workers in the U.S. about if they “cover” at work. Here, “covering” means downplaying parts of your identity to fit in with mainstream culture. Most people cover for some reason or other, and for LGBTQ+ people, that means hiding aspects of their gender or sexuality.

According to the study, 69% of non-heterosexual respondents reported the need to cover at work, as did 68% of trans and nonbinary people.

“While I never pretended to be straight, I nonetheless tried to deepen my voice, downplayed any hobbies or interests that seemed ‘too gay,’ and rarely talked about my partner or invited him to work functions,” said one survey respondent.

What does covering look like in practice? The study identifies four main categories: appearance-based, where one alters their self-presentation or mannerisms; advocacy-based, where one avoids sticking up for a marginalized group that they’re a part of; affiliation-based, where one minimizes behaviors stereotypically associated with their identity; and association-based, where one tries to stay away from other people who hold their identity to avoid drawing attention to it.

Various examples from study participants are referenced throughout the report, giving insight to how LGBTQ+ people cover in the workplace.

“I refrain from talking about topics that are stereotypically ‘gay’ such as pop music,” said one participant. “I avoid talking about my personal romantic life/history with my coworkers so as to prevent any possible discomfort they might feel about talking about homosexuality.”

“I’m in a same-sex relationship, which I keep hidden by using terms like ‘spouse’ instead of ‘wife,’” said another, an example of affiliation-based covering.

Others shared examples of advocacy-based covering: “I don’t always stick up for the LGBTQ community when I hear something negative said because I don’t [want to] stigmatize myself,” reported one survey participant.

The report also found the rates of covering in other demographics. 64% of cisgender women cover at work, as do 66% of Asian people, 65% of Black people, and 62% of Latinx people. Overall, 60% of all workers reported covering at work in the past year.

To address this crisis in the workplace, the report also lays out steps for leaders to make their employees comfortable being themselves. It recommends that leaders examine and identify covering in their own teams, lead by example in sharing their own stories and showing authenticity, and work to become active allies.

Don't forget to share:
Tags: Study
Read More in Culture
The Latest on INTO