The High Cost of Not Being Authentic
Lying about who you are at work costs both money and happiness. It’s true.
Earlier this month I attended Sodexo’s Quality of Life Conference in New York. Why would Sodexo, a company known in the U.S. mostly for cafeteria food, put on such a show? “Get with the program! You should know Sodexo is about more than cafeteria food,” said Laura Schalk, Sodexo’s head of press relations. “In this company we are evangelical about quality of life, and ensuring a great work environment so that employees feel motivated and valued – which links to issues like equality and work-life balance.”
Motivated and valued employees are nice but I went looking for gay stuff. The panel discussion “Gender Balance: How Can Women’s Success Benefit All” caught my eye. I went to find out if women are going to pull me along for the ride as they smash through the glass ceiling.
And that’s when I saw him, sitting at the dais, wearing a fitted gray suit with legs crossed, his muscular thighs straining against the delicate fabric. Kenji Yoshino, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law. He had the type of biography that makes you feel like a loser who sleeps too much: “He was educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale Law School. He teaches in the areas of constitutional law, anti-discrimination law, and law and literature. He has published three books.”
Then Professor Yoshino mentioned having a husband and two children so I stopped fantasizing about our wedding and began to listen.
According to Professor Yoshino, women, LGBT-people, and all minority groups, are likely to “cover” at work in order to get along, conform and move ahead. Covering means changing behavior to mimic leadership, which is mostly straight white males. Women are urged by leadership to be more masculine. Then women are urged to re-cover when they act too masculine. And they say women are fickle.
Yoshino said he covered as a young professor at Harvard Law School after a seemingly well-meaning colleague told him he would do better there if he acted like a homosexual professional rather than a professional homosexual. I’m an amateur gay right now but hoping to go pro after Nationals.
So what’s the problem with making straight white men more comfortable besides the fact it’s 2015? Yoshino says covering costs cold hard cash. In a survey, 53 percent of employees said they felt pressured by leadership to cover. Of that 53 percent, 50 percent said it undermined their dedication to the organization. “Covering, or being inauthentic, has a high cost for an individual’s well-being and organizational performance.”
At the conference dinner later, several women who were not able to attend the gender balance panel asked me if there is a solution to covering. I flippantly suggested sending all straight white men to the moon (What’s that old joke? If we can send one there…) Once I realized this was impossible, I apologized for my bad joke and told them I had not eaten and drank two martinis. Then I told them I’m going to leave it to the guy who went to Harvard, Oxford and Yale to fix the problem. He has some good ideas that you can read here.
For more about Sodexo’s Quality of Life Conference, go here.
— Jeff Stein, Communications Consultant, SAGEWorks