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Fitting In: Why corporate Canada needs to talk about Covering in the workplace 

In 2017 half of the visible minority population in Canada was comprised of two ethnic groups – South Asian and Chinese – with each group numbering approximately 2 million. Yet job candidates with Asian-named applicants, according to a study conducted by Ryerson University and the University of Toronto1 in 2017, have a 32.6% lower rate of selection for an interview compared to Anglo-named applicants, even when both groups had equivalent all-Canadian qualifications.

But what if Asian-named applicants Anglicized their names, a phenomenon known as “covering”?  At this year’s Annual Fall Conference on September 10th, 2018, Ascend Canada, a nonprofit organization with a mission to advance and develop pan-Asian talent, addressed this very topic by launching and publishing a guide titled ‘Fitting in at work.’

Covering is about downplaying our differences to fit into real or perceived workplace norms from their gender identity, place of birth, accent, age or religion to subtler context like family responsibilities, mental health issues, a disability, or even a lack of interest in sports.

Even some of the most prominent and well-established leaders in business, government and the arts have engaged in covering, according to law professor, Kenji Yoshino, who has written a book on covering. At the Ascend Canada conference, Jad Shimaly, EY Canada Chairman and CEO, discussed the concerns he had early-on about needing to cover differences to advance in a corporate work environment – like playing golf and thinking in his first language. He credits challenging the norm by being his authentic self as a driving force behind his success and is an advocate for personal empowerment among others.

Covering was therefore identified as a key topic by Ascend Canada’s Chief Inclusion Officer Forum (CIO), a multi-industry group of volunteers, many of whom lead inclusion initiatives for their respective organizations. “Authenticity is at the heart of inclusivity, and diverse workplace cultures have proven benefits to businesses,” explained Miyo Yamashita, Co-chair, Chief Inclusion Officer Forum, Ascend Canada.

In the Ascend Canada whitepaper on Covering, Yamashita cited research from Harvard Business Review notes that individuals who feel they can bring their whole self to work are 42% less likely to say they will leave within the next year. And employees with inclusive managers are 1.3 times more likely to say their innovative potential is unlocked.

Covering also has high costs, whether it is a lack of employee engagement, loss of revenue and productivity as a result of a narrower talent pool, or wasted dollars on diversity programs where companies have more to lose than gain when it comes to covering in the workplace.

“We all want to fit in at work and to feel like we belong. Opening up to diversity leads to discovering new talent and bringing out the best in others.” said Kelvin Tran, President and Chairman of Ascend Canada, “To lead is more than just about you, it is about being able to motivate others. Leaders need to inspire and connect with their people and their customers.”

The ‘Fitting in at work’ whitepaper on covering was launched at Ascend Canada’s 7th Annual Fall Conference, a marquee event in Toronto which had over 450 participants. The all-day event is held every year and includes interactive learning workshops and professional development.

Visit ascendleadership.ca to view the ‘Fitting in at work’ whitepaper and video or to join Ascend Canada.

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