Author Kenji Yoshino visits Quinnipiac to discuss inclusion

Kenji Yoshino, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law, spoke at Quinnipiac March 19, 2014.

March 20, 2014 - There's a term for the obligation a black woman feels at work to straighten her hair or the pressure an openly gay man feels not to bring his spouse to a company party or show public displays of affection.

They are "covering" - downplaying aspects of their identity that are perceived to be associated with stereotypes or stigmatized in some way, explained Kenji Yoshino, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law who delivered the presentation, "Uncovering Talent: a New Model of Inclusion," on March 19, 2014 at Quinnipiac. 

People cover parts of their identity to fit into the mainstream culture of an organization, Yoshino explained. He argued that covering creates a feeling of not being welcomed, which leads to decreased productivity and a loss of valuable talent. This is bad business despite efforts by organizations to diversify and become more inclusive.

"We will not have actually achieved the dimension of full equality in this country until we imagine our way into a community in which people are not only included, but included without the assumption of assimilation attached," said Yoshino, author of "Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights."

In this politically correct environment, people may not feel the need to completely conceal their identity, such as someone who hides their sexual orientation or their religion or changes their features with plastic surgery. But everyone covers some aspect of his or her identity, Yoshino said.

He shared his own experiences covering. As a gay man, early in his career he hid his interest in gay legal issues to appear more mainstream. Eventually he followed his passion, which put him on a path to success.

Expanding on the work he began in his book, Yoshino joined Deloitte to create a survey of 3,129 employees from a number of firms on the topic of covering. Of the respondents, 61 percent said they covered in some way.

What he found heartbreaking was that between 60-73 percent said they felt having to cover was detrimental in some way. About 53 percent said the pressure to cover came from leadership, and of those, about half said it extremely diminished their opportunities in the organization and extremely diminished their commitment to the organization.

Yoshino said these findings emphasize the importance of creating an environment where people feel welcome to share all aspects of their identities. Some people questioned if people should uncover their true identities, since many people would fall on opposite sides of an issue and it could create conflict in the workplace.

"We say that you can and you must," Yoshino said. "We have to have human engagement with each other if we are ever going to reach genuine transformation."

View more photos from the event on Facebook.