Uncovering culture:
A call to action for leaders

Uncovering culture explores the ways and extent to which US workers “cover”—that is, downplay known disfavored identities to fit into mainstream corporate cultures. This research questions orthodoxies of authenticity and power, including perceptions of psychological safety, to meaningfully move towards equity and belonging in the workforce.

Study overview

Ten years after publishing Uncovering talent, Deloitte’s DEI Institute™ and the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law collaborate to refresh and expand the covering research—exploring more identities, the impacts of intersectionality, and how covering taxes workers* and organizations.

of workers report covering at work within the last 12 months

This is nearly the same percentage (61%) of respondents who reported covering at work in our 2013 report.

*Survey respondents (1,269) are full and part time adult (18+) workers from companies with a minimum of 500 employees in the US across five industry categories: Consumer; Energy, Resources, and Industrials; Financial Services; Life Sciences & Healthcare; and Technology, Media, and Telecom. This final sample was weighted to be representative of our target population. The survey was fielded in 2023.

Workers report engaging in covering behaviors defined along four axes

Icons capture the shift from a covered to uncovered state along each axis.

Appearance-based icons


Appearance-based covering concerns how individuals alter their self-presentation—including grooming, attire, and mannerisms—to blend into the mainstream culture.

Affiliation-based icons


Affiliation-based covering concerns how individuals minimize behaviors widely associated with their identity, often to negate common stereotypes.

Advocacy-based icons


Advocacy-based covering concerns not defending or promoting the interests of one’s group.

Association-based icons


Association-based covering concerns how individuals avoid contact with other group members.

Appearance-based icon

“I edit the way I talk and act around my coworkers so as to make myself appear ‘less gay’.”

Prevalence of covering

Everyone covers, but some cover more.

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.

Percentage of respondents reporting covering, by identity cohort1

Cisgender2 women were more likely to cover than cisgender men, and nonbinary and/or transgender respondents were the most likely to cover.

Cisgender men
Cisgender women
Nonbinary and/or transgender

While 56% of White respondents report covering, incidence of covering is higher for other racial or ethnic cohorts:3


Respondents who identify as non-heterosexual4 were more likely to cover than those who identify as heterosexual.


1 These statistics reflect reported covering by respondents who self-identify as belonging to these cohorts, rather than covering for these identities.

2 Cisgender refers to a person whose internal sense of gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. Transgender refers to a person whose gender identity is different from the sex that was assigned at birth.

3 We have included here those race/ethnicity categories where we had a sufficient number of respondents to report.

4 This includes any survey respondents who self-identified as asexual, bisexual, demisexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, queer, or sexual orientation not listed.

Leading by example

While every individual in an organization can influence its culture, leaders have a crucial role to play in disrupting a culture of covering.

By virtue of their roles, leaders hold the greatest authority and set the tone for others to follow.

of workers believe their team leaders create the psychological safety for them to uncover at work
of workers believe their team leaders genuinely desire their authenticity

Many organizations state they value an inclusive work environment. Yet our research suggests that leaders often cover more, not less, than those lower in the organizational hierarchy.

of both C-Suite (or other executives) and senior managers report covering at the highest rates

Costs of covering

Covering demands are costly for both individuals and the organizations they work for.

When asked, workers reported that the need to cover at work has negatively impacted them in several ways, including their well-being, commitment to their organization, and job performance.

To what extent has the need to cover at your organization negatively impacted the following?

*n equal to less than 10; results cannot claim to be representative of these cohorts in the general population

Despite the increased attention on diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past 10 years, covering is ubiquitous and continues to negatively impact workers and therefore organizations’ capacity to thrive.

But this also presents organizations and leaders with the opportunity to foster an uncovering culture—a workplace environment that not only calls for greater authenticity and belonging, but makes it possible.

This report:

  • Revisits the concept of covering with the benefit of new quantitative and qualitative data
  • Explores the critical role of leaders in either perpetuating or challenging a culture of covering
  • Outlines three practical solutions that leaders can implement immediately to help build an uncovering culture

Download the Uncovering culture report
3.98 MB PDF

Get in touch

Joanne Stephane
Executive Director, DEI Institute
Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Heather McBride Leef
Managing Director | DEI Institute | Deloitte
Kashima Atwood
DEI Institute Leader | Deloitte Services LP