Diversity Depends on Colleague Support

Topic(s): discrimination, diversity, fairness
Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior (2011)
Article: Trans-parency in the workplace: How the experiences of transsexual employees can be improved
Authors: C.L. Law, L.R. Martinez, E.N. Ruggs, M.R. Hebl, E. Akers
Reviewed by: Larry Martinez

The demographic characteristics of the US workforce have been becoming more and more diverse in the past several decades. In a world where differences are protected and often celebrated, many employees find themselves in close, daily proximity with people they wouldn’t normally spend time with. This can lead to tense or awkward social interactions in an environment where everyone is supposed to be focused on their work. Law and colleagues (2011) examined these sorts of interactions – and how to make them less awkward – in an especially rare sample of diverse employees: transsexuals. 


These authors looked at whether transsexual employees tend to disclose their gender identities at work, what predicts whether they do, and whether this disclosure is related to organizational outcomes. They found that transsexuals who worked in organizations that were supportive of transsexual employees, who considered being a transsexual as a central part of their identities, were more accepting of their transsexual status, and who were more “out” to people outside of work were more likely to disclose in the workplace.  In addition, disclosure was related to more positive workplace outcomes including higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

However, this does not mean that all employees with hidden stigmas should just come out wherever they are. In fact, this research found that the relation between disclosure and job outcomes was completely explained by coworker reactions. So, some workplaces will lend themselves to disclosure and some won’t.


Not only does this research highlight things that diverse employees can do (disclosing) to make their workplace experiences better, but, more importantly, it highlights what all employees and organizations can do to make the workplace more hospitable. Specifically, making it clear that all employees will be accepted regardless of their demographic characteristics frees employees from having to worry about how they are perceived by their coworkers and allows them to be more open, comfortable, and focused on their jobs. 


Law, C. L., Martinez, L. R., Ruggs, E. N., Hebl, M. R., & Akers, E. (in press). Trans-parency in the workplace: How the experiences of transsexual employees can be improved. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79(3), 710–723.

Image credit: istockphoto/Phawat Topaisan