Leveraging Sexual Orientation Workforce Diversity through Identity Deployment

Leveraging Sexual Orientation Workforce Diversity through Identity Deployment

Apoorva Ghosh (XLRI School of Business and Human Resources, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1812-1.ch024
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Disclosure decisions for lesbian and gay employees have been researched in organizational contexts. While the dilemmas associated, factors affecting, and situations encouraging or discouraging disclosure have been studied, the relatively unexplored area is how homosexuality can be strategically deployed at workplace to contest the associated stigma and bring positive social and political changes in the organizational climate. While scholars believe that remaining closeted may be the best strategy in a heterosexist and homophobic environment, studies report psychological strain, lack of authenticity, behavioral dilemmas, etc. experienced by closeted individuals, which, at minimum, lead to conflicts in daily situations of identity management and, at the peak, suicidal attempts due to perceived burdensomeness and failed belongingness. To address this dilemma in leveraging sexual orientation diversity in workplaces, this chapter deals with the framework of identity deployment offered by Bernstein (1997) to explore how homosexuality can be deployed in the workplace.
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“Since the late 1980s, FinCo, one of the oldest corporations in the Twin Cities, has had what many insiders and outsiders alike described as a strong diversity initiative as part of its corporate strategy. Yet, there was no organized GLBT group until January 1993, when a series of unrelated events catalyzed two unacquainted employees to start the Gay, Lesbian, and Friends Network. For Dean, a gay man, it was an exercise in a team-training session, in which participants were asked to write the name of a celebrity dream date on a card; as a team-building exercise, they would make a game of matching cards to participants. Faced with the choice of coming out on the spot or hiding, he left the card blank and was later chastised for not being a team player (In later educative encounters, he used this story to answer the frequent question, “What does sexual orientation have to do with work?”)” (Creed & Scully, 2000, p. 399).

With the demedicalizing of homosexuality by American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association in 1973 (Conger, 1975; Berkley & Watt, 2006) and the shift of conservative mindsets, making one’s homosexuality visible is being increasingly seen as normal and accepted. Contrary to the previous phase when homosexuality was considered psycho-pathological and social deviance and concealing was considered more appropriate (Cain, 1991) and discourses on homosexuality were limited to criminology and psychiatry (Gruszczynska, 2009), now it is finding place in the mainstream sociological, economic, and psychological discourses (Badgett, 2001). As a result, organizational scholars are also equally eager to study this diversity after realizing that much focus was on visible social identities such as age, race, and gender (Williams & O’Reilly, 1998).

Woods (1993) captures the pervasiveness of sexual orientation identity in organizations as he observes that peer group functions and gatherings demand the presence of a spouse or partner as social obligation, especially for people holding senior positions. Managing information about their sexual identity, hence, becomes important for lesbian and gay employees (Herek, 1996; Woods, 1993; Woods & Harbeck, 1991) in such situations. The interdependence of relationship and career (Browning, et al., 1991; O’Ryan & McFarland, 2010), referring to spouse or partner during regular chats and meetings in workplaces (Creed & Scully, 2000), and congruence of sexual identity between work and non-work settings (Ragins, 2004, 2008) bring sexual identity to the workplace which may be very normal, usual and obvious for heterosexual employees, but not for gay and lesbian employees (Creed & Scully, 2000). This brings sexual identity in the same league of other invisible identities like religion, occupation, national origin, club or social group memberships, illness (Clair, et al., 2005) etc., where disclosures may not be always easy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Legal Encounter: Litigation filed by lesbian or gay employee to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation at workplace.

Mixed Identity Presentation/ Mixed Model of Identity Deployment (Simultaneous): Deployment of normalizing and differentiating strategies simultaneously with the same target.

Normalizing Strategy: A term used for ‘identity for education’ at workplace.

Educative Encounter: Face-to-face meetings for addressing the various contentions of the peers and employer. Educative encounters invite questions, which offer the lesbian and gay employees to explain realities about their lives, which are largely unknown to their heterosexual peers and employer.

Immersion-Emersion Attitudes: Fascination and involvement towards the gay culture and celebrating their differences from the larger heterosexual majority.

Lesbian and Gay: Women and men who are attracted to the members of same sex. The commonly used term for this, homosexual, was coined by psychiatrists around 1890 to connote homosexuality as an illness. Hence, it is more appropriate to use lesbian and gay, instead of homosexuals (Zuckerman & Simons, 1996). In many contexts, however, ‘gay’ incorporates both lesbian and gay, which too is fine.

Differentiating Strategy: A term used for ‘identity for critique’ at workplace.

Identity for Critique: The strategy to confront the values, categories, and practices of the dominant culture. The emphasis here is on highlighting differences from the dominant culture

Discretion Strategy: To postpone the decision of making the identity visible and remaining alert in choosing the right time to do so, which impacts positively on the coworkers and makes the workplace inclusive for lesbian and gay employees.

Identity as Goal: The goal of mobilizing collective identity to contest the associated stigma, deconstruct restrictive social categories that limit access to resources or seek recognition for an emerging identity.

Advocacy Encounter: Face-to-face encounter with policy makers as advocacy targets to claim equal treatment in the organization.

Identity for Education: The strategy to challenge the dominant culture’s perception of the minority to gain legitimacy by playing on uncontroversial themes. The emphasis here is on highlighting sameness with the dominant culture.

Teaming Up: Collective efforts of a dual career lesbian or gay couple to deploy their alternate sexual identity at workplace.

Mixed Identity Presentation/ Mixed Model of Identity Deployment (Alternate): Shift from normalizing to differentiating strategies or vice versa in the course of identity deployment.

Identity for Empowerment: To mean the creation of collective identity and the feeling that political action is feasible.

Claiming Encounter: Tacit or direct disclosure of sexual identity done by lesbian and gay employees without thought on daily basis, similar to their heterosexual counterparts.

Collective Identity: An individual’s cognitive, moral, and emotional connection with a broader community, category, practice, or institution.

Identity Deployment: A way of expressive collective identity that brings positive cultural and political shifts in the organizational mindsets.

Identity as Strategy: The strategic actions taken to deploy collective identity.

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