Deloitte’s DEI Institute™ in collaboration with the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law released its 2023 study, Uncovering Culture, exploring how U.S. workers “cover,” or downplay known disfavored identities to fit into mainstream corporate cultures. According to the study, 60% of respondents have covered at work within the last 12 months, nearly the same percentage (61%) of respondents who reported covering at work 10 years ago in the first covering study. Among the top reasons workers cite for covering are so that others don’t think less of them, to avoid negative stereotypes, and to be seen as competent and/or valuable, highlighting ongoing fears of discrimination and unconscious bias in the workplace.

What is Covering?

Covering can be defined along four axes: appearance-based (modifying aspects of self-presentation to fit in); affiliation-based (minimizing behaviors widely associated with one’s identity); advocacy-based (not defending or promoting the interests of one’s group); and association-based (avoiding contact with other group members). The latest research confirms that much like in 2013, workers continue to cover in these ways at work, along a broad spectrum of identities, such as age, religion, race/ethnicity, and mental health status.

The Uncovering Culture study comes ten years after Deloitte collaborated with Kenji Yoshino on the Uncovering Talent study. The new study explores a wide range of demographics and firmographics to highlight why it is important for leaders to help disrupt covering culture — an environment in which workers feel that they would be penalized if they were to display greater authenticity.  The study also offers three tangible actions that leaders can take to build a culture of greater authenticity and achieve better workforce outcomes.

Uncovering Culture Key takeaways:

Covering in the workplace remains a widespread practice across demographics and is most prevalent among individuals with multiple marginalized identities.

  • Among workers with 5 or more marginalized identities (identities relegated to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group) 71% report covering at work, as compared to 56% of workers with 1-2 marginalized identities.
  • While 56% of White respondents report covering, incidence of covering is higher for other racial or ethnic cohorts (66% of Asian, 65% of Black, and 62% of Hispanic/Latinx workers).[1] When looking at the intersection of race and gender, the instances of covering increase, with 86% of Asian women and 80% of Black women saying they cover at work, compared to 55% of Asian men and 43% of Black men.
  • Black workers with disabilities reported covering at an astonishingly high rate of 93% (compared to 60% of White workers with disabilities), and all Black LGBTQIA+ workers surveyed reported covering.

Younger generations tend to cover more in the workplace than workers over 50.

  • When looking at generational breakdowns, 66% of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and 65% of Gen Z (born after 1996) say they cover at work, compared to 56% of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) and 49% of baby boomers (born before 1964).

Covering demands in the workplace —whether explicit or implicit — have adverse effects on professional well-being.

  • 60% of workers say that the need to cover at work negatively impacts their overall well-being and makes them feel “emotionally drained”.
  • 58% of workers say they feel the need to mirror behaviors and/or appearances of others [with favored identities] to be perceived as more professional.
  • 56% of workers say that the need to cover at work also negatively impacts their commitment to their organization.

Individuals with “advantaged” identities also cover, particularly if they are a perceived person of power or privilege.

  • 51% of workers who do not have a marginalized identity say they cover at work.
  • Notably, 54% of White cisgender men reported covering at work. Consistent with the previous study, some White men in the 2023 survey reported covering along traditional lines of marginalization, such as sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, age, and socioeconomic status; while others report covering advantaged identities.
  • Across organizational levels, covering is most prevalent among leadership, primarily, C-suite leaders (and other executives), and senior managers (67%). At the same time, workers feel the need to cover more when engaging with anyone in leadership positions, such as C-suite leaders (54%) and senior managers (51%).

Greater workforce and leadership diversity, as well as modeling “uncovering” in the workplace can help disrupt cover culture.

  • 40% of workers believe their team leaders expect them to cover, and only 35% of respondents took the risk of uncovering an identity in the past 12 months that they otherwise felt a demand to cover.
  • Nearly 90% of workers say that actions taken by their organization have helped reduce their need to cover, citing greater work flexibility, diverse teams, and teammates who uncover as examples that have helped them in the past. This finding highlights the opportunity for organizations to disrupt covering culture and lead the charge on fostering a work environment that encourages greater authenticity.
  • To foster a culture of uncovering at work, survey respondents recommend driving greater diversity in the organization; seeing leaders and teammates who model uncovering and encourage others to follow suit; and increasing open, honest communication and active allyship in the workplace.

To see additional findings, download the full report on