Why Work Could Very Well Be Killing You

A comb, a high-heeled shoe, and football tickets. These can all be tools of “covering” or passing. But, in a way you wouldn’t expect.

In this informative talk: Christie Smith, regional managing director at Deloitte Consulting, spoke at TEDxBeaconStreet about the shocking number of employees who don’t share their true identity at work in order to fit in. This work was part of a study on the “corporate cost of covering one self”.

In it, Christine reveals that the comb is carried around by an African American woman who keeps straightening her hair so it looks neat (like a white woman’s), and the sports tix is a way to cover for the lack of interest in sports because this is what is expected “of a man”. People pick up on  social expectations, in small ways and big. And, then, they “fit in”.

There’s an argument to be made that cohesive teams (homogeneity) are key to high performance. Because, if a team is more alike, there’s less friction and more alignment, and faster execution. But difference (or heterogeneous teams) is key to new ideas, or making ideas stronger, or having a team co-own an idea as theirs. Originality is the key to new perspectives, and creative solutions to old problems. There is no originality until we celebrate onlyness.

Christine knows the remedy: “What we need in our organizations today are… emotionally mature leaders who have the capacity and the capability to have conversations across difference,” she said. Until we have organizations that celebrate onlyness, we pay a huge innovation price.

And research measures the cost: suppression of one’s self is linked with poorer health — specifically, a decrease in immune-system functioning. More here, on the cost of faking at work.

Did you ever see this where you worked? BlogIcon_Right copy
What happened?
What kind of workplace do you want to work in?

3 Replies

  1. Nilofer, my God, thank you! Once again, you have made a dramatic shift in my life and no doubt, in the lives of others. This is a GAME CHANGER. My corporation is dying. Not because there aren’t good people at the company who LOVE the company and what we’re trying to do. Its dying because the leadership continues to force “fitting in” and achieve this month’s #s at all costs… even at the cost of the future. Our senior leadership knows how they got where they are and are thinking “why change? If things get too bad (they nearly are), I’ll golden parachute out. Etc.

    Thank you for bringing the voice of humanity and of reason to our lives by documenting this extremely important work. YOU are making a difference!

    Many blessings,


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