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LGBT employees in today's workforce

Updated on September 8, 2012
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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).

Works Cited

 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.


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    • profile image

      charl morkel 

      4 years ago

      I'm mtf currently in my first year into transitioning, and word in a welding shop. All is fine, my boss knows and accept me, but the work environment can get a bit challenging, its quite a male and testosterone driven place. I do ok though.

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you all for your comments and for stopping by. Thanks south african gay for your input, and I hope that progress continues in your country.

    • profile image

      south african gay 

      6 years ago

      very very interesting and a great piece of work, being gay and from south africa that's accepted the rights of the homosexual population, we are still batteling with cultural, religious and structural imbalances and discrimination faced in communities and especially on universities as students from accrous the country are gatherd from different stances.

    • xethonxq profile image


      6 years ago

      I think this is excellent information and I plan on sharing it with my agency. Thank you very much glassvisage!

    • apologetics profile image


      7 years ago

      I just disagree with the whole gay thing. That's all. You are a great writer though.

    • gay4greek profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      Hello, Glassvisage, it was an ad company, hence the creative way of a stupid prank. Same thought I was thinking, how do they get hired?! We wanted to sue when it happened, but he just dropped it as it may be a bad note on his recommendation, he was told that he was just over reacting. GRR!

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you all for your comments. Gay4greek, I'm so sorry to hear about your ex-boyfriend's workplace. That is just ridiculous and intolerable. I wonder what kind of industry it was. Here in San Jose a gay couple is suing Great America because employees took a photo of them and posted it around the park with slurs added to it. How do these people get hired??

    • gay4greek profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      Great Hub post you got here. Sadly, it is true that the search for an LGBT friendly company or even boss is quite hard. My ex-boyfriend was employed in a company on which the environment towards gay people is very harsh. His name was plastered all over a urinal, mind you, they even exerted so much effort in doing what they call 'just a prank, it's funny'. A sick prank. They printed like a hundred of his name with a rainbow flag beside it, laminated them and carefully glued them on and the entire urinal was covered with his name. I mean, who does that?? This has happened a year ago and it still grosses me out and angers me. And this statement: "At least we didn't physically hurt you" is just really disgusting.

    • CJamesIII profile image


      7 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      This is an important hub. Finding a "gay friendly" employer is a daunting task. It's the treatment and the lack of protections (equalities) that hurt the most. Many of you said it, some employers just don't care.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      BTW~ Please feel free to moderate this out; A tiny observation, but worth mentioning to you; you may want to revise title to read "LGBT employees..." (currently LBGT) It may help readers find your hub better when searching. I noticed it because I do the same reversal all the time, so I am conditioned to double check it!

      ~Still loving this hub! :)

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      Very useful hub. I am going to link to this if you don't mind. Up and awesome.


    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you both for your comments! Very insightful. It's difficult to try to place blame. Companies need to set a precedent and create an accepting environment.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      There is sufficient precedence in US law for protecting LBGT employees against discrimination. The problem in the day-to-day work environment is that company owners are not aware of these protections, or they don't care about them, or they might be aware of them but don't take a proactive stance about them.

      It is not the "manager's" fault that discrimination exists in the workplace, nor is it the manager's responsibility to correct this without clear direction from corporate; it is the fault of the CEO / President / Board of Directors and their legal counsel. Managers may be sensitive or not, but if they are not properly trained via company policy, and supported by that policy, then they can't be effective in protecting an employee's right to work.

      In this country, LGBT discrimination is prohibited as a matter of law; it has nothing to do with tolerance or the lack of on the part of a manager. Companies that are out of compliance with the law need to be taken to task, and that taking to task, unfortunately, often means that those who are discriminated against need to shout loud and hard.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 

      8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      When society has to regulate tolerance, then that is saying there probably isn't tolerance, and it's every person for themselves, I agree with the above comments. Should good taste be a directive? Silly question of course, but it shows that society has a long way to go to becoming more tolerant. Some people can't change how they are, and if the laws don't respond accordingly, then we are all reading off the wrong "hymn sheets", so it will be in the end - out of tune.

      Politicians don't help either by passing the buck on the issues of sexuality all the time. Some just want to do the right thing. But no one can agree on what is the right thing, which is crazy.

      This is a great hub, and deals with the issue wonderfully. Maturely written, glassvisage!

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you for your comments! Very good points - especially that even in these times, we need programs and policies to ensure inclusion!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Well brilliantly written hub but I personally can never see or understand any problems. They just live their ways. My experiences with gay men were that they were far more courteous towards a woman than men. Sorry lads.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Very good hub and excellent topic. Excellent presentation.

    • burning bush profile image

      burning bush 

      8 years ago

      Well written hub that properly presents personnel policy and procedures for management as it relates to LGBT employees in the workplace. I would only comment that its really sad that tolerance and acceptance needs to be a directive.


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