LGBT employees in today's workforce
Today’s organizations in both the private and public sectors face a number of challenges in managing a diverse workforce, and over time have developed systems and solutions to ensure the fair recruitment and treatment of underrepresented populations. However, employing and managing gay and lesbian workers can present additional issues, and it is important for both employers and employees to be aware of what these issues are and how they can be properly addressed so as to ensure the protection and equality of gay and lesbian individuals.
In his article “Lesbians and Gay Men in the Public-Sector Workforce,” Charles W. Gossett describes the major difficulties managers face in addressing the presence of gay and lesbians. As the issue of LGBT individuals in the workplace is different than those of other minority groups, managers must become familiar with the facts and the historical experience of LGBT people. Employers must be aware of the impacts of nondiscrimination laws on personnel functions. More and more governments around the nation have found that the best course of action for managing these difficulties involves recognizing, accepting, and accommodating lesbian and gay individuals through changes in policy and workplace culture.
There are specific issues that today’s employers face in the recruitment, selection, termination, training, and employee benefits of LGBT individuals. Managers must work to remain cognizant of the number of federal, state, and local laws addressing nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and the implications of those laws at the workplace. Personnel issues such as affirmative action, defining and handling discrimination complaints, sexual harassment, equitable compensation and employee benefits, and “Quality of Life” tasks present challenges for managers seeking fair and effective work environments. Until changes are made to laws and policies, these issues will not disappear, and managers must determine what kinds of changes must be made and how they should be implemented.
Much of the difficulties that LGBT individuals and their employers face stem from misunderstanding and, frankly, ignorance. In the contemporary work setting, managers must be aware of specialized knowledge and techniques that arise from changing environmental forces (Klingner et al, p. 66-67, 72). Managers and co-workers may simply not be aware of the perspectives, preferences, facts, and historical experiences of LGBT people. This may lead to ineffective and unfair actions and rules instituted by organizations. For instance, not understanding what a transgendered person is may result in problems with access to proper restroom facilities at the workplace, and may even lead to sexual harassment complaints.
Also, precedents set by the military and past legislation have greatly influenced current thinking and policies. The fact that federal courts have not found discrimination by the military against homosexual individuals, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to be unconstitutional does not bode well for nondiscrimination laws at the workplace.
Managers may generally find it difficult to develop and implement policies that ensure both fairness and effectiveness. According to the Contemporary Model of Human Resources Management, managers might have difficulty in implementing laws and treating all employees with complete equality because they find themselves trying to balance the rights of employees and the demands of executive administrators (Klingner et al, p. 73). Because LGBT issues differ from those of other underrepresented groups, managers must understand that uniform rules are not suitable for all situations and that they must work with the group as well as executives to determine what action would be most appropriate (p. 76). For instance, as many states do not recognize same-sex marriages, managers should collaborate with stakeholders to develop benefits provisions for spouses and partners that are acceptable to the organization and employees.
Certain criteria should be set against which possible solutions can be weighed, including: acceptability to management and employees; costs and time for implementation; and expected short- and long-term impacts on the workplace.
One option includes trainings for both management and employees, including diversity training and sexual harassment classes. These are generally acceptable for both groups and are fairly simple to schedule and implement, but the impacts on behavior may not be as effective.
Another possible solution could involve “celebrating diversity” through special events or holidays. Acceptability to management and employees should not be an issue. However, for this option, it is important to remain consistent and celebrate various cultures and groups, which could become costly in time and office funding, depending on the size of the celebration. A simple flag-raising could be organized to celebrate LGBT people. Also, again, the actual impacts on organizational behavior may be minimal.
A more lasting, effective solution would include policy changes that result in more equitable outcomes for LGBT individuals and organizations. While it would take more time to develop policies acceptable to both executives as well as employees, the satisfaction would be more meaningful and long-term. Depending on the policy, the costs may increase; for instance, administrators may choose to consider domestic partnerships similarly to traditional marriages, which would extend benefits coverage to partners of LGBT workers and therefore result in increased costs to the organization. Nevertheless, this option is expected to lead to the most positive outcomes for both sides, and is therefore the recommended solution to this issue.
To initiate the process to develop or amend a personnel policy, stakeholders – executives, employees, HR managers, and even the public – should have a chance to provide their input; this way, all sides will have the opportunity to share their perspectives and concerns so that others may understand and an equitable resolution can be realized. Following meetings and/or study sessions, a proposal may be presented to the City Council or other appropriate legislative body for approval. Employees and residents should be briefed on the implications of the changes so as to ensure a smooth transition period.
Should an organization-wide policy that is appropriate and agreeable fail to be developed, managers should focus on implementing diversity management programs to affect changes to the immediate organizational culture internally. Diversity management is an effectual way to ensure fair treatment of all employees, including LGBT people, and even increase workplace productivity and effectiveness while also addressing economic and political conditions (Klingner et. al, p. 169-170, 2010). These programs can help to impact recruitment and retention policies, education and training, and performance assessment so that the needs and characteristics of LGBT individuals may be taken into account (p. 171).
It is important to make concerted efforts to address human-resource management issues affecting LGBT employees. While the theory of representative bureaucracy argues that minority groups should be equally distributed throughout the public sector, conflicts and tension may result in the workplace without appropriate management techniques (Klingner et. al, p. 168, 2010). Also, today’s trends in HRM strategies, including privatization and non-standard work agreements, tend to reduce social equity in the workplace, resulting in LGBT needs being disregarded (p. 12-13). On the other hand, too much of a focus on individual rights may lead to inefficiency and overemphasis on process (p. 15). Therefore, ensuring democratization in the decision-making process by involving the different stakeholders helps to improve governance capacity (p. 16). In the contemporary model of human resources management, managers must balances the values and perspectives of those involved in planning functions to carry out the organization’s mission of equity and effectiveness; furthermore, managers should continue to reevaluate the policies and programs established to ensure their efficacy (p. 72).
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Gossett, Charles W. “Lesbians and Gay Men in the Public Sector Workforce.” Public Personnel Management: Current Concerns -- Future Challenges. Ed. Norma M. Riccucci. 4th ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. 71-89. Print.
Klingner, Donald, John Nalbandian, and Jared Lorens (2010). Public Personnel Management: Contexts and Strategies. 6th ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2010. Print.