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The Importance of Self-Disclosure in Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Efforts

Let’s talk about the role of disclosure in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). DEI rhetoric often focuses on authenticity, a term often used in organizations’ DEI vision statements, imploring all employees to bring their “whole” or “best” selves to work. We have opinions about which of these authenticity-evoking terms is best for the organizational context, but this article isn’t about authenticity. Because without disclosure, we can’t get to authenticity…nor adequately serve groups we don’t know exist in an organization in the first place.

Disclosure in the DEI context means when one willingly and openly shares something about their identity. Disclosure can come in many forms:

  • Choosing to dress and present oneself as their true gender

  • Talking openly about one’s same-sex spouse

  • Sharing that one practices a certain religious holiday

  • Self-identifying the groups to which one belongs on a job application or workforce survey

Unless we first disclose that we belong to a certain group, we cannot authentically show up as that person at work.

Even more “obvious” areas of identity should never be assumed. For example, someone who looks like a woman may identify as non-binary. Or someone who looks white may actually be Latino/a. Or someone who looks pregnant may just be struggling with getting off those post-pandemic pounds. Note: This one happened to me. #cringe

The point is, you can’t judge a book by its cover until the story within is willingly shared by the author.

When it comes to disclosure, consent is pivotal. Someone must be 100% comfortable and willing to share something about themselves; an individual should NEVER be expected to disclose their identity with others. Err on the side of not asking and letting the person choose when to tell you (if ever). Respecting people’s right to privacy, especially in the workplace, is paramount.

Two ways to encourage disclosure of employee’s various identities in the workplace is by establishing a culture of psychological safety and trust. People from marginalized groups must feel like they can trust that their identity won’t be judged or held against them. There needs to be no fear of retaliation for people to willingly share that they belong to some historically stigmatized group.

Leaders play an important role when it comes to making employees feel comfortable disclosing aspects of their identity. Role modeling is key—leaders who self-disclose that they too belong to some marginalized group signals that sharing this information is welcome and acceptable in this organization.

As CEO of Mattingly Solutions and aspiring thought leader in the DEI space, I’ve been intentional about disclosing the marginalized groups to which I belong, including my struggles with mental illness and my most recent battle with cancer. These areas of “invisible disability” are far more rampant in the workplace than people are willing to admit. And until people self-disclose that they belong to a disadvantaged group can they then advocate for the resources and support they need.

Authenticity without disclosure is talking the talk without enabling employees to walk their walk.

Need support in building a workplace culture where people feel safe to share aspects of their identity? Reach out today to learn more about how Mattingly increases our self-disclosure response rates…and how we can replicate these results at your organization.


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