Nearly half of Black Gen Z ‘hiding true self’ at work, study reveals

Research finds many are 'code switching' and changing their names on job applications, despite diversity commitments from employers

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New research into the workplace experience of Black generation Z workers has found that many hide their names on job applications, are not themselves at work and ‘code switch’ – with LGBTQ+ individuals in this cohort especially affected.

This, experts have warned, indicates issues between employers' stated diversity commitments and their subsequent actions, business authenticity over diversity, policy formulation and trust.

The TapIn study, which surveyed 2,300+ Black Gen Z (16-25 years old) individuals, found that four in five (86 per cent) African heritage Gen Z professionals change their names on job applications to enhance the possibility of recruitment success.

In addition, three in five (63 per cent) who identify as LGBTQ+ said they were unable to be themselves in the workplace – a number that rises to 91 per cent for those who are transgender.

And, despite 85 per cent of this group saying being authentic at work is crucial for their job satisfaction, 47 per cent of Black Gen Z respondents said they change parts of their personality in the workplace, a practice called code switching.

Separately, the survey found that 42 per cent thought their employer having a DEI&B (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) policy was crucial for workplace satisfaction, with three quarters saying that ERGs and staff affinity networks were central to wanting to stay with an employer.

For Emily Charlesworth, HR consultant and InclusivityPlus member at AdviserPlus, with many individuals so clearly feeling that employers’ commitments and actions are out of step, they needed to better “proactively implement inclusivity strategies that include every aspect of onboarding and employee retention”.

This, she added, should include evaluating whether the business’s commitment to DEI&B is authentic, that diversity training exists for all and that policies in this area are clear, with an open dialogue around inclusivity that includes all minorities and revising recruitment practices. “Employers must move beyond lip service and demonstrate a genuine commitment to DEI&B, and this starts with leadership setting a strong example and consistently championing these values and addressing any pockets of inappropriate behaviour,” she said.

“And building trust is crucial because it fosters an environment where employees feel valued, respected and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work.”

Paul Anderson-Walsh, CEO of the The Centre for Inclusive Leadership, said employers must get a handle on “the pressing issue that is generational inclusion” and understand that Gen Z approach this topic differently from previous generations: “Above all, generation Z prioritises authenticity and is wary of organisations perceived as inauthentic, which means any inconsistency in organisational values is a deal-breaker and employers must prioritise authenticity, alignment with personal values, mental health awareness, strong CSR initiatives and environmental consciousness.”

He recommended that employers move past token diversity, facilitate genuine advancement opportunities without compromising authenticity, recognise and celebrate individual contributions, minimise cultural misunderstandings and value diverse perspectives – and prevent ‘othering’, where individuals feel they must represent or dissociate from their ethnicity or race.

Idris Arshad, HR business partner at St Christopher’s Hospice, said businesses have to move past “the easy option” of simply having a diversity statement on their website, embrace the discomfort of the diversity topic and be “true leaders” rather than reacting to outside agendas. He said: “As a business, you will be asked difficult questions on diversity and you have to be truthful to yourselves about the state of diversity at the business.

“To improve, we have to focus on the ‘why’ of diversity, not try and run before we can walk, and not try and think we can change the world before we have our [DEI&B] basics in order – instead we need to work at a steady pace, use data and not just try and react because of something we saw on the news.

“We’ve got to be more purposeful, communicate the progress we’re making and do it for the right reasons.”

Read the CIPD's reports on how to reward and retain Gen Z employees and enabling authenticity in the workplace.