Literature Review on Gays and Lesbians in the Workplace
By T. Kings
Diversity has been an evolving concept. The term is both specific, focused on an individual, and contextual, defined through societal constructs (Moore, 1999). Many current writers define diversity as any significant difference that distinguishes one individual from another, a description that encompasses a broad range of overt and hidden qualities. Generally, researchers organize diversity characteristics into four areas: personality (e.g., traits, skills and abilities), internal (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, I.Q., sexual orientation), external (e.g., culture, nationality, religion, marital or parental status), and organizational (e.g., position, department, union/non-union) (Digh, 1998a; How, 2007; Johnson, 2003; Simmons-Welburn, 1999). The trend in defining diversity “seems to favor a broad definition, one that goes beyond the visible differences” that, for many people, are too closely linked to affirmative action (How, 2007; Jones, 1999). One of the first researchers to use this inclusive definition, R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., was pivotal in moving diversity thinking beyond narrow EEO/Affirmative Action categories. In his landmark work, Beyond Race and Gender, he argued that to manage diversity successfully, organizations must recognize that race and gender are only two of many diversity factors. Managers and leaders must expand their perspective on diversity to include a variety of other dimensions (Thomas, 1992, p. 15). Workplace diversity management, in his model, is also inclusive, defined as a “comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees.” (1992, p. 10). There is political value in this inclusiveness since it does not overtly threaten existing management structures which are still predominantly populated by white males. This general definition also enables all staff to feel included rather than excluded, permitting them “to connect and fortify relationships that enable employees to deal with more potentially volatile issues that may later arise” (How, 2007). However, critics of this inclusive diversity definition charge that it can too easily devolve into a general ‘feel good’ approach that substitutes for real change (Cox, 2001; Welburn, 1999). In addition, critics argue that this definition fails to acknowledge the unequal treatment and limited opportunities experienced by those who differ from the dominant culture. Mor Barak expresses this criticism succinctly, stating that “It is important to note that there is a fundamental difference between attributes that make a person a unique human being and those that based on group membership rather than individual characteristics yield negative or positive consequences” (2005, p.122).Change cannot happen in the workplace, she argues, unless management understands that diversity “is about being susceptible to employment consequences as a result of one’s association within or outside certain groups” (2005, p. 122). Despite the legitimate criticisms of a broad diversity definition, inclusiveness remains politically useful. To make it organizationally useful, HR directors and managers must define the motive(s) behind their interest in diversity and identify the specific ways diversity will benefit their organizations. Digh observes that management must first “articulate, clearly and simply, what is meant by diversity and then decide what approach to take. Does the organization want to “tolerate, value, celebrate, manage, harness or leverage diversity?” (1998a, p. 117). The selection of one or more of these defining verbs is influenced by how an organization understands the context of diversity (Moore, 1999). Many human resource managers ignore the issues that affect gays and lesbians in the workplace, to avoid resistance from other managers and employees, and also because they lack education about such issues. Consequently, HR policy...
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