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date: 25 May 2022

LGBT Workers

Abstract and Keywords

Despite the large and growing representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers, this minority group has received relatively less attention in the management and organization literature compared with other minority groups. This is a critical time in history for LGBT workers in that public opinion has become much more favorable regarding homosexuality. The US Supreme Court has made important decisions concerning gay marriage; and although there is still no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation at the federal level, a recent executive order provides employment protections for federal LGBT workers. This chapter reviews the literature on the workplace experiences of LGBT workers with a focus on synthesizing findings across studies, addressing research trends at different levels of analysis, and providing recommendations for areas for future research.

Keywords: LGBT, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, worker, sexual diversity, climate, organizational policy

One thing we have to remember from Darwin to Kinsey to any great thinker about sexuality, it’s variation is the norm. Biology loves variation; biology loves differences. Society hates it.

Professor Milton DiamondHuman Sexuality Expert

As the quote above indicates, diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity is very much a part of life in the sense that it is relatively constant across time and across cultures, and this diversity is due, at least in part, to biological differences between individuals (Bem, 2000). As the quote above also indicates, attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity diversity have traditionally been negative in most societies across time, including most modern societies today. This being the case, persons with what are perceived as aberrant sexual orientations or gender identities are stigmatized, discriminated against, and harassed in all arenas in life, including where people spend most of their time: at work (e.g., Ragins, 2004). To complicate matters, although several states and cities in the United States prohibit sexual orientation discrimination (Barron & Hebl, 2010), there is no federal legislation protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and most workers are unprotected.

Despite all of this, the last few years have been a critical time in history in terms of advancement of civil rights and employment protections for (p. 178) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers. In 2011, the US military policy “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” which required gay and lesbian service members to conceal their sexual orientation, was repealed, effectively allowing homosexuals to serve more openly in the military. Two years later, the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, thus legalizing gay marriage in states that do not prohibit same-sex marriage (United States v. Windsor, June 26, 2013). President Barack Obama in 2014 signed into law an executive order that provides employment protections to LGBT federal workers (Human Rights Campaign, 2014). There also seems to be progress in terms of attitudes among members of Congress toward the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), proposed comprehensive federal legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It is timely and important to consider the experiences of LGBT workers. The purpose of this chapter, at a high level, is to review the existing management and organization literature on LGBT workers. Unlike other reviews on this topic, some of which are meant to be comprehensive (e.g., Anteby & Anderson, 2014; Ragins, 2004), or representative (e.g., Ozeren, 2014) in nature, or those that are tied to a specific topic, such as heterosexism (e.g., Hebl, Law, & King, 2010) or sexual orientation harassment (e.g., Pichler, 2012), the purpose of this chapter is to review and highlight key works on the main topics that have been addressed in the literature so as to develop implications for future research and practice. A related purpose is to synthesize key findings from existing scholarship with an explicit consideration of relationships among key variables at different levels of analysis. This will involve consideration of some of the other topics in this Handbook.

In terms of organization, the substantive review will start with concepts at higher levels of analysis, so to speak, namely, considering first societal attitudes and legislation, then moving to concepts at the class (wage differences between sexual minority and sexual majority members), organizational (LGBT-supportive policies and practices,1 sexual diversity climate), interpersonal (formal and informal discrimination), and individual (perceived discrimination and wages) levels of analysis. We illustrate the integrative links between issues at each level and note the trickle-down effects that processes occurring at higher levels have on processes occurring at lower levels. We then provide recommendations concerning areas that warrant greater attention in the literature, and we highlight the ways in which future research and practice concerning LGBT workers at one level of analysis can effect positive change for LGBT workers at other levels. An illustrative conceptual model, which will serve as a guide for this chapter, is presented in Figure 12.1. (p. 179) Before proceeding with our review, it is important to define and briefly discuss some key terms and concepts related to LGBT workers.

LGBT Workers

Figure 12.1 An Integrative Model of LGBT Workers’ Experiences.

Key Terms and Concepts

Sexual orientation is a multidimensional concept that represents emotional, romantic, sexual, and affectionate attraction to another person (Pichler, 2007). Not all dimensions need to be in accordance with one another, and an individual’s identity may not be influenced totally by behavior. That is, sex acts with persons of the same sex do not necessarily constitute a homosexual identity. “Homosexuality” is a term used to refer to persons who have sex primarily with persons of the same sex. The terms “lesbian” and “gay” are used to refer to women and men, respectively, who are homosexual. The term “bisexual” is used to refer to persons who have sex with persons of both sexes. Transgenderism involves a gender identity that is nonconforming to one’s biological sex (Gagne & Tewksbury, 1998), and it has nothing to do with sex or sexual behavior.2 Persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersexual are referred to as sexual minorities or nonheterosexuals (e.g., Simoni & Walters, 2001).

Heterosexism refers to societal structures and cultural forces that denigrate nonheterosexual behavior, identities, or communities, and is used to refer to both antigay attitudes and discriminatory behavior (Pichler, 2007). Discrimination in employment decisions based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, although forms of heterosexism that can be referred to as such, are often referred to more specifically as sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination, respectively.

sLGBT Workers’ Experiences

Societal Level of Analysis: Attitudes and Protective Legislation

At the societal level, LGBT workers are influenced both public opinion and legislative action. Specifically, others’ perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors toward LGBT workers as well as the experiences of LGBT workers are in part shaped by the broader societal landscape. These societal factors also influence organizations and individuals within the society.

Societal Attitudes Toward LGBT Workers

Public opinion in the United States has historically been quite negative about sexual minorities (Kite & Whitley, 1996). In a survey in 1965, 70% of respondents indicated that homosexuality was harmful to American life (Herek, 2002). Public opinion has changed since then, and today 40% of Americans feel that homosexuality is wrong (Bowman, Rugg, & Marisco, 2013). Most Americans feel that hate crime laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation (Gallup, 2014), and that discrimination against gay men and lesbians is a serious issue (Gallup, 2014). More and more corporations are coming out in support of LGBT workers as well, and these trends are consistent with and probably responsive to changes in societal attitudes, as is illustrated in Figure 12.1, in a connection between the societal and organizational levels of analysis. In 2002, 61% of the Fortune 500 had nondiscrimination policies, whereas 88% did in 2013 (Human Rights Campaign, 2013).

Characteristics of individuals, such as ideologies and political beliefs, are important predictors of attitudes toward sexual minorities. Empirical research is generally conclusive when it comes to individual characteristics that are correlated with antigay attitudes. For instance, a meta-analysis has documented links between right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, and political-economic conservatism to attitudes about homosexuality (Whitley & Lee, 2000). Individuals who are more likely to endorse traditional attitudes about gender roles, who are sexist, who have had less contact with gay men or lesbians, who are older and less educated, who reside in areas where antigay attitudes are normative, and who have strongly conservative religious ideologies are more likely to have antigay attitudes (Masser & Abrams, 1999).

Stigma theory (Goffman, 1963) is often used as a theoretical lens by which to understand heterosexism (e.g., Beatty & Kirby, 2006). The theory proposes that certain identities are more or less stigmatized, or devalued, in different contexts (e.g., societies, groups, work settings) based on the social and cultural norms of those contexts, and that stigmatization can lead to prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998), which are related to some of the probable reasons behind differences in wages based on sexual orientation and gender identity. An invisible stigma is an identity that is devalued in a particular context, but is invisible or not readily apparent (Clair, Beatty, & Maclean, 2005). Sexual orientation and sometimes transgenderism are often invisible; that said, assumptions are often made about sexual orientation, and sometimes even persons who are not homosexual are assumed to be.

(p. 180) Different stigmas may be viewed more or less favorably in different situations and by different persons depending on their background (see Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner, 2002), and there are four stigma characteristics that predict reactions to a given stigma: controllability, peril or threat, disruptiveness, and course. Stigmas are viewed less favorably when they are perceived as controllable, which is often the case with sexual orientation and gender identity; threatening to others, such as is the case with homophobia, which is a fear of becoming gay; disruptive to work relationships, which is often the case for persons with antigay attitudes; and course, or whether a stigma becomes more visible over time, which may be the case for transgender employees who are physically transitioning from one gender to another.

Protective Legislation

There is currently no comprehensive federal legislation to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in the United States, despite evidence that such discrimination is prevalent and ubiquitous (e.g., Croteau, 1996). As of May 2014, only 18 states and the District of Columbia prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; three additional states prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation only (Human Rights Campaign, 2014). Municipalities also adopt antidiscrimination policies (e.g., Ragins & Cornwell, 2001), but most Americans live in areas without employment protections.

An important question to legislators, to the public, and to sexual minorities is whether or not antidiscrimination legislation can in fact mitigate discriminatory behavior (Barron & Hebl, 2013). In the years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination has decreased significantly in the United States (e.g., Kossek & Pichler, 2006), yet discrimination and prejudicial attitudes are more prevalent and acceptable toward sexual minorities than toward individuals belonging to groups that are protected by legislation, such as racial minorities (e.g., Crow, Fok, & Hartman, 1998; Herek, 2002; Zitek & Hebl, 2007). Empirical research suggests that antidiscrimination policies are effective in reducing discrimination toward sexual minorities. For instance, Ragins and Cornwell (2001) found that perceptions of heterosexism were lower among sexual minority workers who were protected by local ordinances. In an experimental field study, confederate job applicants with labels “Gay and Proud” or “Texan and Proud” on baseball caps applied to jobs in areas with and without antidiscrimination legislation (Barron & Hebl, 2013). Sexual minority applicants were treated more negatively interpersonally in areas without employment protections, even after controlling for community political beliefs as per zip codes. In another experimental study, human resource managers located in areas without antidiscrimination legislation evaluated gay applicants as less hirable than heterosexual applicants, whereas such hirability differences between gay and heterosexual applicants were not seen for human resource managers in areas with sexual orientation antidiscrimination legislation (Barron, 2009a). Furthermore, results from an audit study showed gay individuals who applied for jobs where there are county or state antidiscrimination laws received a higher rate of callbacks for jobs than applicants in places without such legal protection (Tilcsik, 2011). Taken together, these results suggest that antidiscrimination legislation could reduce overt and covert forms of discrimination, which is shown in Figure 12.1 in connections between the societal level and the interpersonal levels of analysis.

Societal attitudes shape antidiscrimination policies, as was the case with shifts in public opinion in the 1960s and the passage of civil rights legislation. Localities with antidiscrimination ordinances tend to be those where public opinion is more supportive of sexual minorities (Lax & Phillips, 2009). As early as the 1950s, Allport (1954) suggested that there may also be some reverse causality, so to speak: Legislation can reduce discrimination by changing societal norms regarding sexual minorities. Recent empirical evidence supports this tenet, as one study found that attitudes toward gay men and lesbians are less favorable in states without antidiscrimination legislation—above and beyond a rigorous set of controls, including religious and political beliefs (Barron & Hebl, 2013). Similar effects were seen in Barron (2009a), with human resource managers in areas with antidiscrimination laws reporting less prejudice toward gay men than those in areas without such legislation. In a separate, randomly sampled phone survey, Barron and Hebl (2013) found that persons living in localities with antidiscrimination legislation are more broadly aware of sexual orientation antidiscrimination legislation, and that such awareness is correlated with positive perceptions of community norms toward sexual minorities. We expect that legislation is related to discrimination, in part, due to its effects on attitudes toward and norms about sexual minorities. Further, the enactment of legislation likely (p. 181) reduces not only actual discrimination but also perceived discrimination at the individual level, as such policies signal support directly to sexual minorities.

LGBT Employees as a Class: Wage Differences Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Wage Differences Based on Sexual Orientation

The concept of wage disparities for LGBT workers intersects both societal and organizational levels of analysis, which is illustrated in Figure 12.1 with wage issues occurring at both levels of analysis. At the organizational level, individual organizations make decisions regarding pay toward individual employees; however, society often dictates whether pay differences are acceptable through societal level attitudes toward a group and legislation protecting against pay discrimination. Research has consistently indicated that, all else equal, gay and bisexual men earn less than heterosexual men (Badgett, 1995; Baumle & Poston, 2011; Blanford, 2003). Estimates vary depending, in part, on how sexual orientation is operationalized, but some suggest that gay men may earn 30% less than similarly situated heterosexual men (Blanford, 2003), even though gay men are, on average, more educated and tend to live in higher wage earning areas (Barron, 2009b). These differences exist regardless of relationship status, that is, partnered versus single (Baumle & Poston, 2011). Discrimination may explain differences in earnings, but a variety of alternative explanations exist, including gay men’s representation in female-dominated work. Research also suggests that gay men may accept lower wages and less prestigious work for opportunities to work with other nonheterosexuals, which creates “gay ghettos” (e.g., Levine, 1979).

Research with lesbian women is less clear (see Barron & Hebl, 2013), with some studies showing a wage premium for lesbian women as compared with heterosexual women (e.g., Black, Gates, Sanders, & Taylor, 2000), whereas another study with rigorous control found no differences in earnings (Badgett, 1995). It is important to note that partnered lesbian women are especially likely to earn more than heterosexual women (Black et al., 2000), and that lesbian women, even more so than gay men, tend to be disproportionately more educated than their heterosexual counterparts (see Barron & Hebl, 2013). That said, lesbian women consistently earn less than similarly situated heterosexual men (Badgett, Lau, Sears, & Ho, 2007).

Research on transgender employees is relatively sparse; however, some reports suggest that many transgender employees earn low wages (Badgett et al., 2007). Other research has shown gendered differences in earnings for transgendered employees, with one study showing transwomen (i.e., individuals who have transitioned from male to female) losing about one-third of their salary post transition, whereas transmen (i.e., individuals who have transitioned from female to male) experienced a boost in salary post transition (Schilt & Wiswall, 2008).

Explanations for Wage Differences

Scholars have suggested that self-selection into more tolerant—and lower-paying—types of jobs among gay men and lesbians might be related to differences in earnings as compared with heterosexuals (Klawitter & Flatt, 1998). Similar to women, gay men and lesbians may receive higher levels of discrimination in terms of fewer opportunities for challenging assignments, which might leave them less prepared for promotion opportunities and more responsible work (King, Hebl, George, & Matusik, 2010). Other scholars have suggested that there is more demand for more openly gay men and lesbian women in certain types of more tolerant but lower paying positions (Badgett, 1995). There is research to suggest that service occupations, public organizations, and nonprofits tend to be more inclusive of LGBT workers (Lewis, 2010; Lewis & Ng, 2013) and that future workers—LGBT students—expect lower salaries, have more altruistic work values, and prefer employment in nonprofits as compared with heterosexuals (Ng, Schweitzer, & Lyons, 2012). Whom LGBT workers work with may also be important. Research has shown that gay men and lesbians who tend to work primarily with heterosexuals earn more than those who work with other gay men and lesbians (Ragins & Cornwell, 2001).

Some recent research suggests that gay men and lesbians may behave differently and may even have an advantage in certain occupations as compared with heterosexuals. For instance, based on interviews with several thousand professionals in Fortune 500 firms, Snyder (2006) suggested that because gay men and lesbians live as invisible minorities and outsiders from in-groups, they may acquire certain types of knowledge and skills that may help them be more effective managers, such as creative problem-solving. Law, King, and Hebl (2006) found that gender roles, not gender per se, are predictive of leadership among gay men and lesbian women, which is generally inconsistent with (p. 182) research on heterosexual leaders, and would suggest that gay men and lesbian women can be perceived as effective leaders depending on the gender roles they express. Gay men and lesbians tend to give and seek support differently from heterosexuals (Huffman, Watrous-Rodriguez, & King, 2008), and using data from two nationally representative surveys, Knight, Tilcsik & Anteby (2014) show that gay men and lesbians tend to be disproportionately represented in occupations that require high levels of independence and social perceptiveness. More research is needed that tracks LGBT workers over time to better understand their occupational choice and career progression.

Organizational Level of Analysis

We next discuss the organizational factors that can impact the employment experiences of LGBT workers. We focus on how both formal (i.e., policies and practices) and informal (i.e., diversity climate) organizational structures impact the treatment of and outcomes for LGBT employees.

Organizational Policies and Practices

Given that most LGBT workers are not protected by any legislated antidiscrimination policy, supportive organizational policies and practices are particularly relevant and have received relatively extensive attention in the literature. Supportive policies and practices include nondiscrimination policies, same-sex domestic partner benefits, inclusive diversity training, and employee resources groups (e.g., Ragins & Cornwell, 2001). A review of the literature on sexual minorities reveals that there is increased interest in institutional support of LGBT issues, including work organizations (Maher et al., 2009). It has been proposed that in the absence of legal protection, organizational policies may help spur federal protection for sexual minorities by helping legitimize the need for such legislation (Martinez, Ruggs, Sabat, Hebl, & Binggeli, 2013). The policies and practices used by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to form their Corporate Equality Index, a measure of firms’ supportiveness toward sexual minorities, which closely parallels the types of practices measured in management and organization research, can be found on the HRC website. As one would find, a firm’s supportiveness of LGBT workers is measured by five factors: nondiscrimination policies; employment benefits, such as medical benefits for same-sex partners; organizational LGBT competency, such as LGBT-specific diversity training for new hires; public engagement, such as philanthropic support; and responsible citizenship, that is, scores are reduced due to reports of negative behavior, such as making donations to antigay organizations.

Research indicates that sexual minorities perceive less discrimination in organizations that have nondiscrimination policies (e.g., Button, 2001; Griffith & Hebl, 2002; Ragins & Cornwell, 2001). Job attitudes among sexual minorities are consistently higher when levels of support are higher (Button, 2001; Law, Martinez, Ruggs, Hebl, & Akers, 2011; Ragins & Cornwell, 2001; Waldo, 1999). Badgett, Durso, Kastanis, and Mallory (2013) reviewed 36 studies on the outcomes of supportive policies and practices and concluded that there is evidence these policies and practices are related to positive job attitudes, higher rates of disclosure, lower rates of discrimination, and more positive health outcomes of LGBT employees. Thus, organizational policies can impact variables at lower levels of analysis, namely the interpersonal and individual levels, as is illustrated in Figure 12.1. Furthermore, a recent study found that implementing goal setting into sexual orientation diversity training helped improve both attitudes and behaviors toward gay men and lesbians (Madera, King, & Hebl, 2013). It is perhaps no surprise then that a number of papers have focused on rationale for adoption of supportive policies and practices (Huffman et al., 2008; King & Cortina, 2010).

Researchers have attempted to understand the underlying mechanisms that explain links between supportive policies and job attitudes, and they offer some interesting findings as well as areas for future research. Perceptions of discrimination were found to mediate relationships between supportive policies and job attitudes in a study by Ragins and Cornwell (2001). Law and colleagues (2011) found that supportive policies were related to higher levels of disclosure of a transsexual identity, which in turn was related to more positive job attitudes. Based on perceived organizational support theory, Trau and Pichler (2012) proposed that perceptions of organizational support should at least partially mediate relationships between supportive policies and job attitudes among both sexual minority and majority group members because the adoption of such policies is nonmandatory and is indicative of genuine care and concern for employees’ well-being. This is similar in logic to research that has found organizational adoption of family-supportive benefits are perceived positively even by persons without children.

(p. 183) Additional research is needed to more fully understand the ways in which persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities react to supportive policies. In fact, although organizational supportive policies occur and vary at the firm level, most research to date, with some exceptions (e.g., Button, 2001) has been conducted strictly at the individual level with convenience samples of LGBT workers from many firms, without any real analysis of variables at the group or organization levels.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Diversity Climate

The relationship between supportive policies and perceptions of discrimination is not always consistently documented. For instance, Waldo (1999) found that a psychological climate supportive of sexual orientation diversity is positively related to perceptions of heterosexism, whereas organizational policies were not. It is important to note here that measures of heterosexism differ across studies (e.g., Button, 2001; Ragins & Cornwell, 2001; Waldo, 1999), which could be responsible for inconsistent findings. That said, it is also possible that climate might mediate relationships between supportive policies and heterosexism (Button, 2001; Griffith & Hebl, 2002; Trau & Pichler, 2012; Waldo, 1999). Sexual diversity climate at the organizational level likely influences interpersonal interactions and individual perceptions, as is illustrated in Figure 12.1.

Organizational climate has been defined as the shared perceptions among organizational members of organizational policies, practices, and procedures (Schneider, Gunnarson, & Niles-Jolly, 1994). Button (2001) found that supportive policies and practices were related to group-level perceptions of affirmation for sexual orientation diversity, which is conceptually similar to sexual diversity climate. That said, there is no well-validated measure of sexual diversity climate at the group or organization level for work organizations, but there is a measure developed for use in schools by Liddle, Luzzo, Hauenstein, and Schuck (2004), which has been found to predict both job satisfaction as well as perceptions of heterosexism among a convenience sample of employed LGBT respondents. In a study of the Safe Schools Program (SSP) for gay and lesbian students in Massachusetts, Szalacha (2003) found that supportive policies and practices such as nonharassment policies, personnel training, and support groups were positively related to sexual diversity climate (among both gay and lesbian and heterosexual respondents), which highlights the importance of studying perceptions of policies and climate among both heterosexual and nonheterosexual workers (Trau & Pichler, 2012). Velez and Moradi (2012) found that perceptions of sexual orientation diversity climate (Liddle et al., 2004), but not perceptions of a heterosexist work environment, were predictive of job attitudes and that perceptions of person-job fit mediated these relationships. As with legislation, it is possible that establishing supportive policies sets the tone for a positive sexual diversity climate within organizations. That is, having such policies relays a message to employees, job applicants, and other stakeholders (both heterosexual/gender conforming and nonheterosexual/gender nonconforming) about the organization’s values and signals what behavior is expected and will be tolerated. The research in this area is relatively sparse, and additional research is needed to disentangle the effects of organizational climate versus supportive policies on perceptions of heterosexism and discrimination.

Moral and Economic Imperatives for Organizational Support of LGBT Workers

Academics have consistently called on organizations to adopt supportive policies and practices (Huffman et al., 2008; King & Cortina, 2010) and to support safe climates for sexual orientation diversity (Bell, Özbilgin, Beauregard, & Sürgevil, 2011), in part, because of the consequences LGBT workers may suffer when no such policies exists including discrimination, harassment, and physical attacks as well as the negative psychological and attitudinal outcomes. Thus, based on a social responsibility framework, scholars such as King and Cortina (2010) contend that employers have a moral imperative for adopting supportive policies and practices, to keep their workers safe and healthy. Advocacy and human rights groups such as the HRC are also on the forefront of developing moral arguments for adopting supportive policies, and the number of firms that support LGBT workers increases every year (Lewis & Pitts, 2011). There is not much, if any, published literature in the management and organization space that analyzes business leaders’ thoughts and communications about social responsibility arguments for supportive policies.

In addition to a moral imperative, a variety of stakeholders have suggested that there are broader corporate social responsibility and business reasons for organizational support of LGBT workers. For instance, business leaders have suggested that there is a “business case” for the adoption of supportive (p. 184) policies and practices, which could include maintaining positive relationships with LGBT customers, compliance with various regulatory requirements, financial benefits, and developing a reputation as a champion for diversity (Metcalf & Rolfe, 2011). Gay and lesbian consumers are more likely to have higher disposable incomes (Colgan, Creegan, McKearney, & Wright, 2007), and the purchasing power of the “pink market” is thought to be over $800 million (Paul, McElroy, & Leatherberry, 2011). Supportive policies may be attractive to this market. Supportive policies are also thought to allow firms to attract the best and brightest talent (Day & Greene, 2008). In fact, even some heterosexual workers respond that domestic partner benefits are one of the most important factors they look for when considering a job offer (Badgett & Gates, 2006), again suggesting that supportive policies are connected to perceptions of organizational support.

Several recent studies have tested the “business case” rationale, or the financial outcomes of supportive policies (Johnston & Malina, 2008; Li & Nagar, 2013; Wang & Schwarz, 2010), all of which found at least some support for proposed relationships between supportive policies and financial benefits. Each of these studies used stock market reactions in order to measure financial benefits to adoption of supportive policies, and their authors have called on researchers to test underlying mechanisms of performance improvements that might yield positive stock market reactions. In perhaps the most sophisticated test of the business case for supportive policies, Pichler, Blazovich, Cook, Huston, and Strawser (2014) found that, over time, the adoption (or discontinuation) of supportive policies is related to higher (or lower) firm value, productivity and profitability, that these relationships are robust in areas with antidiscrimination protections, and that firm value and profitability benefits are higher for firms with demand for highly skilled labor. In total, research tends to support the proposition that supportive policies are related to financial benefits for firms.

The Interpersonal Level of Analysis

Pichler (2012) proposed that formal discrimination, interpersonal discrimination, same-sex sexual harassment, and sexual orientation and gender identity harassment are all forms of heterosexism because they each function to preserve traditional gender norms and heterosexist ideals. Each of these behaviors occurs at the interpersonal level of analysis, and they are discussed in turn.

Formal Discrimination

Formal discrimination refers to discrimination in employment decisions, such as in selection and termination decisions, which is relatively overt and can be monitored, tracked, and, where antidiscrimination exists, exposed in a court of law (Hebl, Foster, Mannix, & Dovidio, 2002; Barron & Hebl, 2013). Although most of the research on LGBT workers has been conducted at the individual level of analysis, such as with perceptions of discrimination, discrimination is inherently an interpersonal or social-psychological phenomenon, as it involves both an actor or decision-maker and a target. Formal discrimination can be conceptualized as spanning levels of analysis, as the behavior occurs interpersonally; however, the consequences are often reflective of organizational policies (and legislation) and they influence both organizational systems (e.g., selection) and individuals.

Although there is very limited research on formal discrimination based on gender identity in the empirical literature, studies of formal sexual orientation discrimination have consistently documented discrimination against homosexuals. Research suggests that sexual minorities receive lower performance evaluations (Horvath & Ryan, 2003) and are less likely to be perceived as suitable for employment (Pichler et al., 2012) than heterosexuals. Crow et al. (1998) asked managers in a southern US city to select six of eight candidates for an accounting position. The candidate’s gender, sexual orientation, and race varied, and results showed that regardless of gender and race, homosexuals were least likely to be hired. Gender role stereotypes may be relevant as to perceptions of LGBT workers and particularly to their employability. Lehavot and Lambert (2007) found that more prejudiced individuals tend to rate gay men and lesbian women as less moral when they enact gender roles inconsistent with their actual gender (i.e., when gay men are perceived as behaving in feminine ways, lesbian women in more masculine ways). Pichler, Varma, and Bruce (2010) found a pattern of discrimination such that, considering other factors such as diversity training of the perceiver, job applicants were discriminated against in a fictitious hiring scenario based on their gender, sexual orientation, and the gendered nature of the job for which they were being considered, such that gay men and heterosexual women were preferred for a registered nurse job, and heterosexual men and lesbian women were preferred for a sales manager job. Gender also influences treatment toward transgender employees, who have reported experiencing (p. 185) negative stereotyping regarding their competence and abilities to perform (Schilt & Connell, 2007). Transmen also experience gendered responses at work in the form of being expected to perform “masculine” duties at work such as moving furniture and lifting heavy objects (Schilt & Connell, 2007).

Interpersonal Discrimination

As compared with formal discrimination, interpersonal discrimination is less overt and it is generally not illegal—it involves more indirect behaviors, verbal and nonverbal, such as when minority group members are treated with less friendliness or when they are excluded from social situations (Barron & Hebl, 2013). In general, discrimination in organizations today tends to be expressed less through overt negative acts, such as discrimination in hiring, and more often through covert behaviors (Ruggs, Martinez, & Hebl, 2011). This is, in part, because overt forms of bias, namely sexism and racism, are much less accepted culturally today and also less normative. That said, attitudes towards gay men and lesbians are still disproportionately more negative than are majority attitudes toward members of other stigmatized groups (e.g., Crow et al., 1998).

A breakthrough study by Hebl et al. (2002) demonstrated differences between formal and interpersonal discrimination. In this study, confederate job applicants, unaware of the experimental condition they were in, wore either a “Texan and Proud” or “Gay and Proud” hat when applying in person to retail jobs in Texas. Although the stigmatized applicants were not discriminated against in the sense that they received the same amount of callbacks and were not prohibited from filling out employment applications, they were treated less favorably in terms of the ways in which store managers interacted with them, (e.g., less smiling, shorter interaction periods), which was recorded by the confederates, observers, and independent coders who listened to audio recordings of the interactions and were blind to conditions. Later research replicated these findings, showing higher levels of interpersonal discrimination toward gay and lesbian (versus heterosexual) job applicants (Singletary & Hebl, 2009). Work group norms are probably important when it comes to interpersonal discrimination. Goodman, Schell, Alexander and Eidelman (2008) found that team members are more likely to act negatively toward an ostensibly gay leader when teammates have expressed negativity toward the leader.

Outcomes of interpersonal discrimination are no less severe than those for formal discrimination. Stigmatized group members tend to use nonverbal forms of behavior, such as exclusion, as a basis for determining whether bias has occurred (Dovidio, Kawakami, & Beach, 2001), and they react accordingly. For instance, early research showed that displays of subtle negativity toward job applicants led to poorer performance during interviews (Word, Zanna, & Cooper, 1974). Further, experimental research suggests that experienced interpersonal discrimination might be more likely to affect performance than formal discrimination as measured by proxies such as in-basket task performance and an attention task (Singletary, 2009). Interpersonal discrimination is related to lower levels of helping behavior and higher levels of turnover intentions among minority group members (e.g., King et al., 2010).

Same-Sex Sexual Harassment and Sexual Orientation Harassment

Same-sex sexual harassment, which is sexual harassment directed at a target of the same sex as the actor, can take the form of (1) gender harassment (offensive, derogatory behavior directed at persons of a particular gender) or (2) unwanted sexual attention—both of which are forms of hostile work environment sexual harassment—or (3) sexual coercion, otherwise know as quid pro quo sexual harassment (see Pichler, 2012). Any form of sexual harassment, whether same- or opposite-sex is illegal and actionable as gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (see Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 1998). Sexual orientation harassment, on the other hand, is defined as verbal, physical, or symbolic behaviors that convey negative attitudes about one’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (Konik & Cortina, 2008). Sexual orientation harassment is not illegal based on any existing federal regulations or legislation (see Carreno v. IBEW Local 226). Pichler (2012) suggests that same-sex quid pro quo sexual harassment and sexual orientation harassment are forms of formal and informal heterosexism, respectively: The former is discrimination based on sexual orientation, the latter harassment based on sexual orientation.

As an example of sexual orientation harassment, Bennett (1996) describes the story of a man who was subjected to drawings of him having sex with other men and was physically abused, but his complaint was denied at various levels, such as the Equal (p. 186) Employment Opportunity Commission and a District Court of Appeals because he was perceived to be harassed based on his sexual orientation and not his gender. This form of harassment in and out of workplaces is pervasive. Recent research indicates that hate crime victimization among sexual minorities is widespread (Herek & Sims, 2008), ranging from verbal harassment to aggravated assault. In a survey of sexual minorities employed by progressive organizations or so-called good practice organizations, about one-quarter of respondents reported experiencing harassment based on sexual orientation (Colgan et al., 2007). Sexual orientation harassment can result in a variety of negative psychological outcomes (Waldo, 1999), such as drug abuse and reduced performance. Scholars argue that because this form of harassment is based, at least in part, on nonconformity to traditional gender roles, sexual orientation harassment should be made actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Disclosure of Minority Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Because LGBT workers are often stigmatized, they are careful and selective about whom to come out to at work, when, and under what circumstances (Pichler, 2007). This decision process is generally conducted repeatedly across different social interactions and circumstances (see Friskopp & Silverstein, 1995). There is relatively extensive research on disclosure in the management and organization literature as compared with other topics.

There are a variety of strategies for managing a sexual minority identity in the workplace (King, Mohr, Peddie, Kendra, & Jones, 2014). Clair et al. (2005) provide a review and typology of disclosure decisions, which involves passing and revealing strategies of persons with invisible stigmas. Persons can pass by concealment, which involves actively suppressing information about one’s identity, or by fabrication, which involves constructing a false identity at work, such as by brining an opposite-sex friend to a company event. Passing as a heterosexual can be intentional or unintentional (Herek, 1996). Concealing an invisible identity can be challenging and stressful (e.g., Button, 2001; Goffman, 1963; Woods, 1994). Revealing can take the form of signaling, which is to drop clues about one’s identity, or normalizing, which involves attempts to minimize the significance of an identity through drawing parallels to the majority identity.

There are a variety of theories that would suggest disclosure should be related to positive outcomes, including self-verification theory—a key proposition of which is that individuals want to maintain social identities that are consistent with their own views of themselves. Empirical findings are mixed (King, Reilly, & Hebl, 2008; Pichler, 2007): Some find positive relationships, others negative relationships, and still others null results (see Ragins, 2004) as to relationships between disclosure and positive outcomes. Based on stigma theory, Ragins, Singh, and Cornwell (2007) proposed that these mixed findings could be due to fear of negative repercussions predicting job attitudes and other outcomes in addition to disclosure. The authors found that fears related to disclosure were lower—and actual disclosure was higher—when work groups were perceived as socially supportive and comprising other sexual minorities, and that fear alone predicted job attitudes, psychological strain, and career outcomes. Experiences of past sexual orientation discrimination were related to higher levels of fear as well as disclosure. These results support the conceptual model developed by Ragins (2008), which suggested that social support and anticipated consequences were key predictors of disclosure, and they suggest that concealment may be necessary in certain work environments.

As King and colleagues (2008) explain, disclosure of a stigmatized identity comes with potentially positive and negative consequences, such as reduced stress associated with concealment and a more consistent, positive self-identity on the one hand, and increased discrimination and hostility on the other (e.g., Friskopp & Silverstein, 1995). There are some important situational characteristics that are related to disclosure outcomes. In a study of both sexual minority and majority members, King et al. (2008) found that a climate supportive of sexual orientation diversity was the key predictor of the positivity of disclosure experiences for sexual minorities, whereas heterosexual experiences were more positive when timing occurred later rather than sooner in a “paper people” study involving interactions with a fictitious gay coworker. Law et al. (2011) found that disclosure of a transsexual identity and coworker reactions to disclosure mediated relationships between job attitudes and key predictors, namely disclosure outside of the workplace, centrality of transsexual identity, and supportive organizational policies and practices.

Beyond individual- and interpersonal-level benefits, disclosure is thought to have more macro-level (p. 187) benefits. Creed and colleagues (Creed, Dejordy, & Lok, 2010; Creed & Scully, 2000) suggest that voice and silence can be powerful change agents. Creed and Scully (2000) document how workplace encounters can serve as opportunities for LGBT workers to purposefully deploy their sexual orientation as instances of “micromobilization,” which can, over time, create social and cultural change within organizations. Creed et al. (2010) documented how LGBT clergy used voice and silence to create institutional change by framing their actions around existing institutional values systems. Survey results suggest that avoidance strategies are negatively related to effectiveness of work groups, whereas integrating strategies are positively related to effectiveness (Chrobot-Mason, Button, & DiClementi, 2002).

Work-Family Experiences of LGBT Workers

Although work-family outcomes such as work-family conflict and balance are individual-level constructs, work-family issues are often interpersonal in nature and include couples and individuals nested in families. Additionally, work-family issues are a concern at the organizational level, as organizations have the power to choose to develop (or not develop) policies that support positive work-family outcomes that are specifically relevant for and inclusive of LGBT employees. Although there is very little research on the work-family experiences of LGBT workers, this is a potentially bright area for future research.

Ragins (2008) proposed that different levels of disclosure across work and nonwork domains can lead to identity disconnects, which could lead to stress around managing one’s identity across different domains, including making attributions about whether the source of how one is treated is due to work behaviors or to stigma and prejudice. Disclosure disconnects are closely related conceptually to work-family conflict or a perceived incompatibility between work and family roles, and they both have similar antecedents, such as social support (Michel, Mitchelson, Pichler, & Cullen, 2010). In fact, Day and Schoenrade (1997) found that gay and lesbian employees who concealed their identities reported more work-family conflict than those employees who revealed their identities, who had levels of work-family conflict similar to heterosexuals. Other findings have supported the positive role of disclosure at work on work-family conflict for lesbian employees and have also shown that some of the same factors that influence work-family conflict for heterosexual couples, such as number of hours worked per week and lack of job autonomy, also negatively impact work-family conflict for same-sex couples (Tuten & August, 2006).

Despite some similarities, there is reason to believe that the way in which work and family domains of life intersect may be different in some ways for heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals. For instance, Hammer, Brockwood, Huang, and Nice (2002) found that crossover effects of work-family conflict varied between heterosexual and homosexual couples. Huffman et al. (2008) found that a model of work-family conflict validated with mostly heterosexuals did not fit well for homosexuals, except when climate was included as a moderator. This may be because, among dual earner couples for instance, decisions must be made about whether or not to reveal one’s identity and, if so, how to include one’s partner at company events (Prince, 1995). Research has shown that gay and lesbian couples tend to share housework more evenly than do heterosexual couples (Peplau & Fingerhut, 2004), which could have implications for differences in family-to-work conflict for persons in gay or lesbian relationships. Thus, this is an opportunity to connect research LGBT workers’ wages with research on the work-family experiences of these workers.

The Individual Level of Analysis: Perceptions of Discrimination

LGBT workers face a variety of forms of employment discrimination (Anteby & Anderson, 2014; Hebl et al., 2002; Martinez et al., 2013) and, given the research reviewed thus far, it is probably no surprise that they perceive high levels of discrimination as well.

A review of the literature on perceived sexual orientation discrimination found that studies published since the 1990s indicate that some 15% to 43% of sexual minority workers experienced overt discrimination in the form of being fired, being denied a promotion, being given a negative performance evaluation, and/or being the victim of violence based on sexual orientation (Badgett et al., 2007). Up to 41% of sexual minorities reported being verbally or physically abused at work (Badgett et al., 2007). These findings echo previous findings from Croteau (1996), which reported that 25% to 66% of sexual minority survey respondents experienced discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, as well as other similar survey results (e.g., Levine & Leonard, 1984; Sears & Mallory, 2011 [42%]). The employment situation for transgender (p. 188) workers seems particularly difficult. In a review of the literature, Badgett et al. (2007) found that up to 57% of transgender workers report experiencing discrimination in their lifetimes, that up to 31% report being harassed, and that there are disproportionately high rates of unemployment and low earnings among transgender individuals.

Perceptions do not always match reality, and this general principle is true when it comes to perceptions of discrimination. Although there is limited research connecting perceived discrimination with actual discrimination in general, including sexual orientation discrimination, research has shown that perceptions of discrimination are not correlated with self-reported wages (Ragins & Cornwell, 2001). Of course, perceptions of discrimination may be multidimensional and may include multiple forms of discrimination other than wage-based discrimination. Moreover, perceived discrimination is operationalized differently across individual-level studies of LGBT workers. Thus, it seems important for researchers to investigate, perhaps through a qualitative literature review and additional empirical research, connections between perceptions of discrimination and other career-related outcomes, including wages but also including subjective career success, mentoring, and so on.

Unlike research connecting perceptions of discrimination with wages, the literature on the outcomes of perceived discrimination is quite clear. Perceptions of discrimination are related to negative job attitudes, such as job satisfaction, commitment, and turnover intentions (e.g., Button, 2001, Driscoll, Kelley, & Fassinger, 1996; Griffith & Hebl, 2002; Ragins & Cornwell, 200l; Waldo, 1999), job anxiety (Button, 2001), organizational self-esteem (Ragins & Cornwell, 2001), and psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety (Ragins et al., 2007). This is consistent with research on minority stress, which has found that the stress associated with feeling like a target of prejudice and discrimination in society is so great that it can cause a variety of serious negative psychological sequelae (Waldo, 1999).


LGBT workers have, over the last couple of decades, received increased attention in the public sphere as well as by academic researchers (Anteby & Anderson, 2014; Pichler, 2007). That said, LGBT workers remain one of the largest yet most understudied minority groups in the management and organization (Ragins, 2004; Pichler, 2007) and applied psychology literatures (Clark & Serovich, 1997). The study of sexual orientation and gender identity issues in the workplace is a relatively new area of scholarship that is in need of theoretical development (e.g., Creed, 2006; Ragins, 2004). Although there has been a significant increase in research on LGBT workers since the review by Ragins (2004), there is still much that is unknown and still comparatively less research on LGBT workers than other minorities. Research on sexual orientation, in general, has primarily focused on the role of institutions such as the military, schools, and work organizations, since the 1990s (Maher et al., 2009).

Some of the earliest research related to sexual minorities workers focused on questionnaires to identify LGBT workers for the purposes of screening them out in selection (see Anteby & Anderson, 2014, p. 12), although the validity of such tests was not clearly demonstrated. Research has certainly come a long way since then. Still, reviews in the 1990s and 2000s noted the lack of empirical research on LGBT workers, except self-reports of perceived discrimination (Crow et al., 1998; Ragins, 2004), and criticized the field for lacking rigorous empirical research (e.g. Croteau, 1996; Longborg & Phillips, 1996). There has been relatively extensive and certainly more sophisticated empirical work since then, at least as related to certain topics, chiefly among them being formal discrimination (e.g., Pichler et al., 2010), interpersonal discrimination (Griffith & Hebl, 2002), sexual orientation and gender identity disclosure (e.g., King et al., 2008), and wage differences (see Badgett et al., 2007).

With some exceptions (e.g., Ragins, 2008), there is also still a lack of impactful work that provides theoretical-conceptual frameworks for understanding some of the key issues related to LGBT workers, including discrimination, disclosure, and differences in wages as well as related topics, such as work-family experiences of LGBT workers and persons in LGBT families. Thus, we provide recommendations for future research that are based on a synthetic understanding from previous research and that highlight the importance and possibility of including persons from diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. We begin with recommendations concerning inclusionary work within the LGBT literature, and then provide recommendations for research and practice across the levels of analysis discussed. Further, we provide some suggestions about conceptual and theoretical frameworks to consider as guides.

(p. 189) What’s Missing in LGBT Research

First, we would like to say that among LGBT workers, it seems especially important that researchers consider the unique experiences of bisexual and transgender workers. As seen from this review, the vast majority of what we know about LGBT workers is based on research focusing on gay men and lesbians, and findings are often generalized to all other sexual minorities. However, it is important for researchers to carefully examine all of the subpopulations within the LGBT umbrella, as the experiences of one group may differ from that of another group. Bisexual individuals may face unique challenges in organizations in terms of identity, acceptance, and treatment in the sense that they may not identify with or feel accepted by the LGBT community, so to speak, but they also may be stigmatized and face adverse treatment from the sexual majority community. Thus, this population of workers, which is significantly understudied, probably faces challenges that homosexual workers do not face.

Greater attention should also be paid to transgender workers, as their stigmatizing characteristic is different from that of sexual orientation minorities and thus poses challenges that are different from those which gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees may experience. Transgender employees may face functional institutional challenges related to access to restrooms and medical benefits as well as interpersonal challenges related to identification of the self in the way in which one prefers (e.g., referring to someone by preferred pronouns). Additionally transgender employees, particularly transsexuals, face issues related to crossing over from one gender to another. During such instances of gender transition, transgender employees may not have the option to make careful disclosure decisions and may subsequently experience periods of intense and extreme discrimination that sexual orientation minorities may have more control over. However, unlike sexual orientation minorities, for whom disclosure is a constant repetitive behavior, transgender employees who transition to another gender may experience a more curvilinear pattern with both discrimination and disclosure throughout employment such that both behaviors are low pretransition, high during transition, and return to low posttransition. The nature of discrimination and identity management across the transition cycle for transgender employees is not well understood and should be examined in future research.

We recognize the inherent difficulty that researchers have in readily identifying some of the subpopulations within the LGBT umbrella such as individuals in the transgender and bisexual communities, as some individuals do not openly express these identities. Also, even when researchers have access to such populations, there may still be difficulties surrounding data collection, as individuals may fear backlash from being “outed” or having results around their experiences published. One way that researchers can work to overcome the hurdle of population identification is to partner with organizations within their broader communities that focus on serving sexual minorities. Researchers can provide knowledge to these organizations about past research, current research questions, why it is important to address these questions, and the benefits of participation not only to the researchers but also, and more importantly, to members of the LGBT community. Additionally, individuals who work at community organizations often have access to members of the LGBT community and also can provide researchers with critical knowledge about gaining trust and data collection. Such individuals can also provide insight into current and emerging issues related to LGBT workers.

Once researchers have access to members of harder-to-identify subpopulations, we recommend that researchers use a relationship-building approach with participants in order to gain information that not only addresses the current research but also may inspire additional research. A greater use of mixed method designs that combined qualitative and quantitative measures related to workplace experiences for these individuals can aid in the development of relationship building and also allow researchers to collect data directly related to their interests. When collecting qualitative data, we suggest that researchers allow for additional time for participants to share their work-related experiences in a way that goes beyond simply answering researchers’ questions. That is, researchers can engage with participants and gather qualitative data directly related to the story that members of the population want to tell. Such time will empower participants with greater “voice” and may help them to feel more comfortable addressing researchers’ questions. Also, building such relationships may help researchers establish repositories of contacts that may be used in future research.

Second, we would also highlight the almost total lack of international or cross-cultural management and organization research on LGBT workers. Since stigmatization is influenced by societal attitudes, it is important for researchers to more fully consider (p. 190) how experiences of LGBT workers differ across different cultures, and research on discrimination from an international perspective more generally should be helpful in this connection.

Implications for Research and Practice With a Focus on Levels of Analysis

As seen throughout this chapter, the effects of issues and discrimination-reduction strategies across levels of analysis are integrative, such that higher level processes trickle down to influence lower levels of analysis. We believe that the stream of influence works both ways, in that processes at lower levels can also ignite behavior and change at higher levels, and we make recommendations that focus on exploring the integrative nature of both macro and micro levels of analysis.

Protective Legislation

Although there is no extensive research on protective legislation in the management and organization literature, research suggests that federal antidiscrimination legislation would be helpful toward reducing discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace (e.g., Barron & Hebl, 2013; Ragins & Cornwell, 2001). It is important to reiterate here for our readers and for policymakers that anyone can be discriminated against formally based on their sexual orientation—it just depends on the type of job for which one is being considered (Pichler et al., 2012). Perhaps it is only a matter of time before such legislation is adopted, given that attitudes have become more positive toward sexual minorities over time, especially in the last decade. Of course, reporting of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity may be complicated by the fact that many sexual minorities have not fully disclosed their identities, and they may not want to report this type of discrimination. We expect this will be an important area for future research. That is, we recommend that researchers more formally examine factors that influence why individuals who report sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination at work choose to report this as well as things they considered prior to reporting. We predict that factors such as sexual orientation diversity climate and supportive organizational cultures positively influence decisions to report; however, empirical research is needed to test such assertions. We would encourage more cross-level research, so to speak, such as examining how changes in policy adoption at the state and local levels are related to adoption of supportive policies and practices at the firm level.

Supportive Policies and Practices

One of the most consistent trends, broadly speaking, in this literature is the importance of supportive policies and practices, which predict perceptions of climate and heterosexism, as well as job- and career-related outcomes of LGBT workers. We concur with King and Cortina (2010) that firms have both moral and economic imperatives for adopting supportive policies and practices. The research is clear: LGBT employees report less discrimination, have more positive job attitudes, and are more likely to disclose their identity among organizations with supportive policies, and more and more research suggests that heterosexuals may also have more positive job attitudes in supportive organizations. Moreover, new research suggests that firms that adopt (discontinue) supportive policies gain (lose) performance and financial benefits over time as compared with similarly situated firms (Pichler et al., 2014). Simply put: Firms that adopt supportive policies and practices seem to outperform those that do not.

Since supportive policies are meant to mitigate discrimination that LGBT workers experience interpersonally, it would be useful to study LGBT workers over time so as to more fully understand how changes in organization-level policy adoption across different firms are related not only to perceptions of discrimination at the individual level but also to changes in employment status, career progression, and wages among LGBT workers. More work that spans across levels of analysis from individual decision-making to institutional and societal barriers is needed to understand the careers and differences in wages of LGBT workers, and it seems important to use a longitudinal approach in order to do so. None of the published literature on LGBT workers in the management and organization space is longitudinal in nature, and such methodology would allow for a tracking of behavior across time and level.

Additionally, future research should examine the extent to which organizations may influence positive change in legislation through the adoption of supportive policies in places where antidiscrimination laws do not exist. Recently, Martinez et al. (2013) suggested that organizations can be at the forefront of instituting change for sexual orientation minorities by providing greater legitimacy that individuals within the society will not stand (p. 191) for employment inequality against LGBT workers and that passing legislation is indeed necessary and useful. Research examining the movement on legislation in areas where organizations take a strong stance against LGBT discrimination may provide insight into how to reduce negativity surrounding issues that span societal and organizational levels, such as wage disparities. Given that LGBT legislation is an issue that is becoming addressed by more local and state governments, researchers have the opportunity to more directly examine the impact of passing LGBT legislation by examining the levels of prejudice and discrimination toward LGBT workers in areas both prior to and after the passage of LGBT antidiscrimination legislation. Such pre- and postexaminations will allow researchers to make more definitive connections concerning the relation between LGBT legislation and expressed negativity toward LGBT workers.

Sexual Orientation Diversity Climate

Perhaps one of the more robust, but heretofore not fully acknowledged, findings in the literature is the importance of a climate of support—in addition to supportive policies. We encourage business leaders and human resource and diversity managers to measure and monitor the extent to which their firms have climates that are supportive of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is important to note here that more work needs to be done in terms of developing the construct of sexual orientation diversity climate, and that a model of climate at specific levels of analysis, such as the organization or group level of analysis is needed, based on a specific model or theory of aggregation at each level. The work of Chan (1998) should be particularly useful here, in that he outlines different conceptual frames for operationalizing different types of data aggregation. The research does seem to suggest that climate is at least as important as more observable policies and practices. Existing research suggests that supportive policies are related to perceptions of sexual orientation diversity climate among both sexual minority (e.g., Button, 2001) and sexual majority workers (e.g., Szalacha, 2003). It is important to note that heterosexuals can experience heterosexism, such as antigay harassment, both directly and indirectly in their environment, which can have negative psychological effects on them just as it can for sexual minorities (e.g., Silverschanz, Konik, Cortina, & Magley, 2008).

Thus, we suggest that a key area for future research is to investigate how variability in supportive policies and climate, among several carefully selected organizations with expected variability on these dimensions, is related to outcomes like job attitudes and performance among both sexual minority and majority workers. Such research can be grounded in the person-organization fit theory (e.g., Kristof, 1996), as this theory provides a nice context for understanding such relations. It would be informative, in the same study, to measure work group characteristics, such as proportion of sexual minorities, so as to understand how individual-level outcomes are affected by both individual- and work-group level characteristics. In this way, variables at multiple levels of analysis—the organization, work-group, and individual—can be investigated simultaneously so as to provide a more realistic and informative picture of sexual orientation and gender identity diversity in the workplace.

Work Groups and Interpersonal Dynamics

The social-psychological literature and research on LGBT workers has clearly demonstrated that interpersonal discrimination is just as important, if not more so, as formal discrimination when it comes to work-related outcomes of sexual minorities. An important area for future research then is to more carefully investigate the interpersonal dynamics between persons of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Previous reviews have suggested that future research investigate heterosexism within the context of ongoing interactions, which involve affect cognitions and behaviors, so as to better understand attitudes, coming-out experiences, and heterosexist behaviors from a more dynamic process (Hebl et al., 2010). We suggest that one way to do so would be through the use of experience sampling methodology, where LGBT workers use a diary to record on a regular basis, such as several times per day over the course of a couple of weeks, their experiences related to perceptions of heterosexism, disclosure episodes, discussions with others about their identity, and so on, as well as to state effect and job attitudes, so as to better capture these ongoing interactions and the ways in which the daily experiences of LGBT workers affect their performance. It would be particularly useful to include sexual majority coworkers in such a study so as to understand these experiences from a network perspective and to understand how experiences of sexual minority workers are related to and affect experiences of sexual majority workers. In this way, observations could be captured at multiple levels of analysis, such as within individual LGBT (p. 192) workers over time, between individual LGBT workers, and in dyads or work groups with other sexual majority workers.

Individual-Level Discrimination Reduction

As this review and previous others highlight, LGBT employees continue to experience discrimination at work. Although there has been some research on ways to reduce such discrimination at the individual level (see Singletary & Hebl, 2009), greater research in this area is needed. Specifically, future research should examine effective ways for heterosexual, gender-conforming individuals to engage as allies on the behalf of sexual minorities. One way to do this is to examine factors that influence and deter ally engagement among employees with positive LGBT-attitudes. Such analyses will allow for more targeted strategies in increasing ally engagement. The use of social psychological theories on commitment may be helpful to understanding strategies to mobilize new allies.


Research concerning LGBT workers over the last few decades has vastly advanced our understanding of LGBT workers’ experiences in employment. Specifically, we have a greater understanding of the manifestation of discrimination against LGBT workers, predictors of such behavior, and the consequences of this behavior. What is less clear in the literature are effective ways to reduce such behavior at the interpersonal level, although we expect that this form of discrimination is influenced by variables at higher levels of analysis. As research has shown the trickle-down effects of processes at higher levels influencing lower levels, we believe that effecting change at the societal (e.g., comprehensive federal legislation) and organizational levels (i.e., adoption of supportive policies and work toward providing safe, supportive climates) will positively affect interactions at the interpersonal level and outcomes at the individual level for LGBT employees.


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(1.) Henceforth called “supportive” policies and practices for brevity.

(2.) In fact, a person who is biologically male may identify as a woman, yet may have romantic feelings and sexual desires for a woman, thus this person would have a homosexual identity.