This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Opportunities and Challenges for Lesbians at Work*
Lin McDevitt-‐Pugh MBA, 4 June 2011
* Reading material for the “Promoting Equality: Lesbian Women in the Workplace” workshop at the 2011 CPP International LGBT Business Conference.
Workplace Pride, Postbus 59238, 1040 KE Amsterdam, www.workplacepride.org 1
From Individual Experience to Shared Knowledge
Lesbians face challenges at work that affect their productivity and their career advancement. A group of 20 lesbian employees of Dutch corporations met in 2011 to look at why we still need to organize separate lesbian discussion spaces for lesbian women in the corporate world. We wanted to define what makes us special and what needs to change so that Dutch employers can benefit more from their lesbian employees and their lesbian employees can be fully themselves at work. We are just beginning to understand diversity and lesbians at work. The Dutch law reinforces parity, yet we all experience the often subtle ways in which lesbian women are kept from being a full contribution at work. According to the White Paper from the Minister of Education, Culture and Science on its Gay Emancipation Policy (April 2011), four in every 10 lesbians and bisexual women reported experiencing negative reactions to their sexuality. Most negative reactions are experienced with strangers, both on the street and in public spaces; the second most negative environment is the workplace1. The fundamental idea of strategic Human Resource Management is that attracting and managing appropriate human resources is strategic to the organizations’ success. Increasingly, private and public organizations recognize that public values, like diversity, are integral to strategic HRM. Corporate social responsibility is being measured as a business value. The Dow Jones index and ranking institutions base their rating figures in part on how commercial organizations incorporate social values. In other words, the need for companies to be inclusive is now affecting their shareholder value. Other public values that contribute to strategic HRM relate to recruitment and selection, public service motivation, work life policies, leadership. Other staples of HRM relating to diversity are retention, development of talent, bonding, motivating, engaging, and utilizing the people who work in your company or whom the company has contracted to work for them. The lesbians in this discussion group experience resistance to changing the way things are at work. The following document is intended to help all levels of management understand the value of changing practices at work relating to lesbian women. Further reading: Stonewall lesbian research – The double-‐glazed glass ceiling, 2008 www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/doubleglazed_glass_ceiling.pdf
1 Stichting OndersteBoven/Universiteit van Amsterdam 2009
1. Recruitment and Selection • Lesbians have their own networks and through these networks they can bring potential employees to the company. Utilizing these networks helps the company avoid always finding the same sort of employee (clones). Having a diverse workforce helps the company be attractive to all sections of society; when the internal organization and the external client base match, business is easier. 2. Developing talent • Pink competencies 3. Motivating, Engaging, Bonding • Lesbians avoid joining male-‐dominated employee networks. Gay men, lesbian women and transgendered men and women experience some things at the work place in the same way, and many in a different way. LGBT employee groups are a very useful way of shaping LGBT-‐friendly workplaces. However, lesbians also need separate spaces to explore and discuss together shared issues on the work floor. While gay men may use traditional male networking methods, women network most effectively in private and safe environments. • Recent Dutch studies show that most lesbians are between the ages of 25 and 30 when they come out of the closet.2 Lesbians in many cultures experience family rejection when they come out of the closet. Their work offers them a space to be themselves. For all lesbians, coming out at work requires bringing their private life into public spaces with greater potential harm to the career (or perceived potential harm to the career) than when a heterosexual woman for example talks about her weekend with her boyfriend. However, if there are anti-‐ lesbian or anti-‐ gay jokes at work, about ‘being one of the boys’ or ‘being an old maid’ – or the many bad taste jokes that are all too well-‐known, this group of women is particularly vulnerable. Initiatives to promote bonding, motivating and engaging lesbians must be sensitive to these issues and recognize that women who are willing to be openly lesbian at work are both courageous and at the same time indicating that they are wanting to be 100% themselves at work. These are two very attractive qualities in an employee. 4. Utilizing lesbians • Lesbians have learned to be flexible and creative – we have to, to survive. We have learned to think differently, and certainly outside the box. This is an asset to an organization. • Lesbian women have their own networks and through these networks they can bring clients to the organization. Lesbians connect with lesbian and trans clients in a way that straight women or gay or straight men do not. The barrier to
2 Keuzekamp S. (red). “Steeds gewoner, nooit gewoon”, Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, the
Hague (The Netherlands), June 2010
Workplace Pride, Postbus 59238, 1040 KE Amsterdam, www.workplacepride.org 3
starting the conversation is lower. There is a subtle yet present willingness for lesbian women to do business with each other. The willingness is to really connect as people, without the flirting expected in female-‐male contacts, without the annoyance with men prevalent when straight women connect. It is about getting to work and making it work. 5. Work life policies • Lesbians may be excellent choices for foreign assignments. HR departments must be aware of the special actions that are needed to accommodate the partner and, potentially, the children, in a foreign posting. Companies must have the same policies for the spouse and family in a married lesbian couple and in a married heterosexual couple; it is not good enough to apply the law of the host country of the foreign assignment. Unless the company has specific policies supporting lesbian women on foreign assignments, lesbian women will not even contemplate taking the assignment. They may not even be aware that they are avoiding the assignment. The employer misses out on being able to use her skills unless policies are in place to support lesbians and their families on foreign assignments. • Many lesbians are able to work full time. Companies must break through any heteronormative assumption that women will not work full time and will not pursue their careers. In a heteronormative culture, being a lesbian requires breaking through the concept of what is normal. Yet there is nothing abnormal about being lesbian. It is simply who we are. • Lesbians want to be valued for their contribution to the work. Heteronormative workplace practices often have the inbuilt assumption that men and women will interact in a certain way. Lesbians often do not adhere to these interaction practices. The practices are often the result of bringing majority norms from the outside world into the workplace practice. The workplace must learn to differentiate itself by building a culture of inclusion. 6. Leadership • Lesbians in many cultures experience being rejected by families. Work is a place where they could simply be. If the workplace is supportive of lesbians, lesbians will support the workplace. • A culture of sexual identity secrecy interferes with an organization’s effectiveness. When women hide their identity at work, the organization is faced with an organizational and not a personal weakness. It is often public knowledge that a top-‐level heterosexual leader has a spouse and children, yet even in rankings like Opzij’s 100 most influential Dutch women, lesbians usually choose not to expose their private circumstances. Secrecy at the leadership level does not simply affect the woman herself: all lesbians in the company receive the message that they should leave who they are at home, and adopt a purely work persona at work. Workplaces that are not spaces where lesbians can be out of the closet do not benefit fully from competent women. • Many companies in the Company Pride Platform acknowledge that LGBT network leaders and others spend time developing the networks and that these networks add value to the company. Very few companies however adjust the performance KPIs to include the work in promoting a workplace that works for lesbians. When lesbian diversity results are made measurable, SMART and included in the KPIs, middle management are enabled in supporting leaders.
7. Public Service Motivation • Lesbians in many cultures experience being rejected by families. Work is a place where they could simply be. If the workplace is supportive of lesbians, lesbians will support the workplace. • Lesbian women do not always feel safe being ‘out’ at work. This includes women who are comfortable with their sexuality. There is always the chance in the background that at some point in their career, being an out lesbian will be used against them. This can be “best will” discrimination, such as a company not approaching a lesbian for a foreign placement because they know it to be unsafe. It can also be more malicious, like not wanting to promote an out lesbian who might at some time ‘embarrass‘ the company. Do not assume a single woman is single, or straight. • Sensitize upper management, middle management and the work floor to the implications of embracing difference. Rather than singling out LGBT people, make this an explicit part of a total business campaign to allow all employees to be fully themselves at work.
for Businesses that want to retain lesbian talent
1. Have policies, with sanctions, against any activity that demeans lesbians. The work environment must be a place where lesbian women can work with freedom, equality and full self expression. 2. Create and maintain a culture of diversity, in which lesbians can proudly be lesbian. Don't stop until ever lesbian feels safe to be out at work. 3. Don’t assume lesbians do not have the family commitments of other staff 4. Don’t assume that lesbians will not want foreign postings in non-‐gay friendly countries. Never think on behalf of lesbians. Talk with them 5. Create ‘hard’ KPIs for lesbian network leaders for their work with lesbian issues at the workplace, and ensure that management accommodates these KPIs.
Workplace Pride, Postbus 59238, 1040 KE Amsterdam, www.workplacepride.org 5
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?