Should Organizations Implement LGBT-Supportive Policies?

Topic: Diversity
Publication: Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice (MAR 2010)
Article: The Social and Economic Imperative of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Supportive Organizational Policies
Authors: E.B. King & J.M. Cortina
Selected commentary authors: Zickar, M.J. and Locke, E.
Reviewed By: Samantha Paustian-Underdahl

While the United States has implemented workplace legislation to protect employees from discrimination based on sex, race, religion and age, there has been no federal legislation enacted to protect employees from discrimination based on their sexual identities. King and Cortina (2010) believe that despite the lack of federal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) employees, organizations should enact their own LGBT-supportive policies.

The authors provide considerable evidence showing the extensive workplace discrimination faced by LGBT employees. For example, they report that gay men earn up to 23% less than heterosexual men in the same occupation and rank (Elmslie & Tebaldi, 2007). A lab study shows that when fictitious job applicants were portrayed as heterosexual, they were rated more positively than gay and lesbian applicants with the same qualifications (Horvath & Ryan, 2003). Further, in a review of self-report LGBT workplace studies, Croteau (1996) showed that between 25% and 66% of LGBT employees reported that they experienced discrimination on the job. So, you may be asking yourself why organizations should respond.

King and Cortina (2010) discuss two primary reasons they believe organizational supportive practices are critical. 1)    Social imperative – according to Stakeholder Theory (Freeman, 1984), organizations have a responsibility to their stakeholders or anyone affected by the actions of the organization. 2)    Economic imperative – the authors provide evidence that heterosexism, discrimination against LGBT employees, can be an expensive cost to organizations. They discuss an abundance of research which shows that perceptions of workplace discrimination are related to negative mental and physical health outcomes, reduced organizational commitment, reduced job satisfaction, role conflict, and increased turnover intentions. Given the prevalence of heterosexism, its potential consequences, and the social and economic imperatives of organizations, King and Cortina (2010) provide suggestions for organizations to reduce LGBT discrimination: ·   Include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination statements and policies ·   Provide optional opportunity for LGBT employees to include their sexual orientation on anonymous engagement surveys ·   Establish benefits for LGBT employees and their families (i.e., domestic partner and dependent benefits) ·   Launch diversity initiatives such as LGBT resource groups, or mentorship programs Selected Commentaries: King and Cortina received two commentaries that focused on philosophical arguments for or against the implementation of organizational supportive practices regarding LGBT employees. Zickar (2010) believes that I-O psychologists should take on a humanistic approach in their work with organizations. Zickar suggests that research should be motivated by social justice concerns in addition to economic considerations. With more research on this area, organizations may become more likely to implement LGBT-supportive policies. Similarly, Zickar notes that I-O psychologists in applied settings have the access and ability to speak out against heterosexist practices. Locke (2010) on the other hand argues from the viewpoint of objectivism. Locke suggests that organizations do not have obligations to society (beyond respecting individuals’ rights) and thus should be able to hire any employees they want; even if their hiring decisions are based on some irrational categorization (such as race, sex, or sexual orientation).

In sum, these arguments highlight an interesting paradox: A humanistic perspective rejects the economic argument for organizations to implement LGBT-supportive practices; an objectivist argument supports the economic case for such policies (if profit is a rational objective for organizations), but rejects the social justice argument for LGBT-friendly policies. In moving forward, it may prove difficult to satisfy the multiple philosophical viewpoints that exist amongst organizations, employees, and I-O psychologists.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Eden B. King. E-mail: [email protected]

Focal article:
King, E. B., Cortina, J. M. (2010). The social and economic imperative of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered supportive organizational policies. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 3, 69–78.

Locke, E. A. (2010). The individual, corporations and society: To whom do rights belong? Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 3, 100–102.