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Hiding social identity at work may raise discrimination risk

The prevalence of discrimination in the workplace may lead employees to conceal personal characteristics that could become targets of discrimination. However, the behaviors embraced by those workers most concerned about being discriminated against may be inspiring higher rates of race, religion and national origin discrimination, among others, rather than lowering them.

Recently, a research team composed of members from George Mason University, the University of Houston and Rice University examined what happens when workers seek to conceal their minority characteristics from their coworkers.

Interestingly, they found that concealment of important personal characteristics of minorities leads not only to increased turnover and lower job satisfaction but more discrimination in the workplace overall.

When minorities attempt to hide social identity as individuals of a particular age, race, disability, religion, nationality or sexual orientation, they may inadvertently receive more discriminatory treatment than if they had chosen to be open about these characteristics.

As the workforce becomes more diverse, more employers and employees respect that it is inappropriate to intentionally discriminate against minorities. However, if an individual is not open about his or her social identity, coworkers are less likely to behave in self-aware and respectful ways towards minorities.

It may seem counterintuitive, but if people do not believe they are in the presence of a minority, they are more likely to behave in prejudiced ways, as they do not feel like their actions directly impact the members of their targeted prejudice.

Ultimately, the study suggests that if you are feeling apprehensive about revealing elements of your social identity because you fear discrimination, it is possible that your concealment may add to the risk of discrimination in the long run.

Source: Business Standard, "Why it's not good to hide vital information at work," Jun. 3, 2012

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