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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Visibility Within SIOP: Fostering Research Advances and a Culture of Inclusion

Scott B. Button
Personnel Decisions Research Institutes

Brian Welle
Catalyst

Amidst public controversy, ongoing legal and political scrutiny, and strongly rooted social beliefs, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees and the issues they face in the workplace are receiving more attention now than ever before. Recent examples include the controversy over gays and lesbians openly serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, the adoption of domestic partner benefits and antidiscrimination policies by many of the nations largest employers, and the continuing public policy debate over the need to protect employees against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

SIOP, like many other organizations, is beginning to examine its culture in relation to its LGBT members. The SIOP Executive Committee has made a concerted effort to promote LGBT visibility and inclusion by establishing an ad hoc committee on LGBT research and membership issues. The purpose of the committee, which is cochaired by Scott Button and Mikki Hebl, is to encourage research on LGBT workplace issues and promote a LGBT voice within SIOP. Among the goals of the committee are to increase the visibility of LGBT workplace issues at the annual conference in Chicago, create a discussion group for sexual minority members and those who conduct research in this area, and to serve as a resource to the editors of leading I-O journals as they receive papers on this topic and search for appropriate reviewers. The committee will also be hosting a reception in Chicago to bring together sexual minority members within the Society, heterosexual colleagues who support the committees mission, and anyone interested in conducting research in this area. 

The formation of the committee is, in large part, a response to discussions that have taken place at recent SIOP conferences. At the Societys 17th annual conference in Toronto, the issues faced by LGBT members of SIOP surfaced spontaneously in two separate sessions (i.e., Ferdman, Davidson, Dipboye, Gelfand, McDonald-Mann, & Ryan, 2002; McDonald-Mann, 2002). In each of these sessions, the issues and concerns faced by sexual minority members, along with possible strategies for addressing these issues were touched upon. Both sessions were sponsored by the Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs (CEMA). 

Last year, in Orlando, a panel discussion was held to extend, expand, and document the discussion that was initiated in Toronto (Button, Ragins, Holt, Cornwell, Ferdman, Thomas, & Welle, 2003). Panelists included sexual and racial/ethnic minority members who collectively represented the perspectives of graduate students, academicians, and applied practitioners. The session was intended to surface issues faced by sexual minority members, identify areas of concern shared across minority groups, and identify possible avenues for improving the climate for diversity within SIOP. The format of the session encouraged audience participation, and the discussion drew heavily upon participants input and perspectives.

The panel discussion, which was expected to draw only a small audience, was attended by approximately 60 people (Standing room only!) and sparked a spirited dialogue. Many panelists and audience members discussed feeling isolated within the Society because of a lack of visibility and little accommodation of their perspectives, life experiences, and research interests. These sentiments were most strongly endorsed by the graduate student attendees. A number of participants agreed that they frequently felt like outsiders at the annual conference because of the invisibility of LGBT SIOP members and research that specifically addressed this population. Some students also shared their concern that conducting research on this topic is risky, and very few of them have faculty advisors who support this line of inquiry. Even when faculty is supportive of such research efforts, they typically have little knowledge in this area and are uncertain where or to whom to refer students.

The underrepresentation of topics related to LGBT employees on the annual SIOP program and in the I-O literature was also discussed at some length. Practitioners in the audience felt that a greater prevalence of research in this area would be very useful to the ongoing work in their organizations. Although many organizations have forged ahead with establishing LGBT-friendly policies and creating inclusive work environments, well-conceived and conducted research in this area would build increased support for these affirming measures and renew discussions within reluctant organizations. The practitioners also believed that research of this kind could do much to enhance the broader visibility and relevance of SIOP. 

A large part of the discussion was focused on alliance buildingidentifying ways that LGBT members of SIOP can work with members of other minority groups to address their concerns. Many participants agreed that there is some commonality in the issues faced by sexual and racial/ethnic minority members within the Society. Perceptions of invisibility and exclusion, in particular, seem to be shared. However, most participants felt that the issues are different enough that they should be addressed separately. Several indicated that CEMA should continue to focus on issues related to racial/ethnic minority members and that a new committee should be formed to address issues related to LGBT members of SIOP. Some participants also commented that homophobia and racism could make a more global approach difficult to implement.

The discussion generated a number of ideas on how to better include LGBT students, practitioners, and academicians in the Society. Participants enthusiastically agreed that research in this area should be more prevalent at the annual conferenceit would help reduce perceptions of invisibility, raise awareness of these issues, and generate more collaborative research in the area. In order for this to happen, however, SIOP members must be willing to conduct research on LGBT workplace issues and present their results. At the same time, the conference reviewers must be open to reviewing and accepting these submissions and be educated on the special challenges (e.g., sampling issues, few established measures) that make such research so difficult to conduct.

The participants also agreed that a LGBT discussion group should be created on the SIOP homepage. Such an outlet would hopefully encourage SIOP members to conduct research in this area, inspire collaboration among researchers and applied practitioners, circulate information on research issues or opportunities, and provide a resource for faculty members in need of information or guidance in this area. The discussion group could also be used to publicize the availability of jobs or internships of potential interest to sexual minority members within the Society.

Although these suggestions certainly point to the need for changes within the Society, panelists and audience members alike noted the positive changes that they have witnessed within SIOP. Over the past 5 to 10 years, the presence of sexual minority members and research of relevance to LGBT employees have become more visible within SIOP. Topics related to gay and lesbian workplace issues have increasingly appeared at the annual SIOP conference, including same-sex sexual harassment (DuBois, Kustis, Knapp, & Faley, 1994), organizational climate for sexual minorities (Button, 1997), sexual identity management (Button, 1999), discrimination in hiring (Foster, Mannix, & Hebl, 2000), gay family-friendly policies (Hammer, Brockwood, Huang, & Nice, 2002; Ragins & Cornwell, 2001), and heterosexism in the workplace (Ragins & Cornwell, 2002a). Some of this research has also begun to appear in leading journals for I-O research such as Personnel Psychology (Day & Schoenrade, 1997) and Journal of Applied Psychology (Button, 2001; Ragins & Cornwell, 2002b). 

The newly formed committee on LGBT research and membership issues is committed to capitalizing on these recent advances within SIOP. By taking into account the perspectives of the many LGBT SIOP members, and a growing number of researchers examining LGBT workplace issues, this committee will work with the Executive Committee to make SIOP an organization that is inclusive of all of its members and encourage I-O psychologists to become prominent contributors to the research in this area. 

References

     Button, S. B. (1997, April). Considering sexual diversity: Steps in the right direction. In K. M. Thomas (Chair), New directions for diversity research: Insights from ethnic identity theory. Symposium conducted at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, St. Louis, MO.
     Button, S. B. (1999, May). Identity management strategies: A quantitative investigation. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Atlanta, GA.
     Button, S. B. (2001). Organizational efforts to affirm diversity: A cross-level examination. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 1728.
     Button, S. B., Ragins, B. R., Holt, J., Cornwell, J. M., Ferdman, B. M., Thomas, K. M., & Welle, B. (2003, April). Sexual-orientation diversity in the broader context: Issues and avenues. Panel discussion conducted at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Orlando, FL. 
     Day, N. E., & Schoenrade, P. (1997). Staying in the closet versus coming out: Relationships between communication about sexual orientation and work attitudes. Personnel Psychology, 50, 147163.
     DuBois, C. L. Z., Kustis, G. A., Knapp, D. E., & Faley, R. H. (1994, April). Same-sex sexual harassment in the workplace: An empirical investigation. In C. L. Z. DuBois (Chair), Sexual harassment in the workplace: A look at underresearched issues. Symposium conducted at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Nashville, TN. 
     Ferdman, B. M., Davidson, M. N., Dipboye, R. L., Gelfand, M. J., McDonald-Mann, D. G., & Ryan, A. M. (2002, April). Dialogue on diversity and inclusion in organizations: SIOP and beyond. Symposium conducted at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
     Foster, J. B., Mannix, L. M., & Hebl, M. (2000, April). Gay and proud: A field-study approach to examining hiring discrimination against homosexual individuals. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, New Orleans, LA. 
     Hammer, L. B., Brockwood, K. J., Huang, Y., & Nice, M. (2002, April). Work and family among gay and lesbian dual-earner couples. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
     McDonald-Mann, D. G. (2002, April). Roundtable session: Committee on ethnic minority affairs (CEMA). Session conducted at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
     Ragins, B. R., & Cornwell, J. M. (2001, April). We are family: The influence of gay family-friendly policies on gay employees. In L. T. Eby and C. L. Noble (Co-Chairs), New developments in research on family-related HR policies and practice: Beyond Ward and June. Symposium conducted at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Diego, CA.
     Ragins, B. R., & Cornwell, J. M. (2002a, April). Its not what you say, its what you do: The impact of organizational policies and practices on heterosexism in the workplace. In J. Z. Carr and J. Greenberg (Co-Chairs), Contradictions in promoting diversity: What works when? Symposium conducted at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
     Ragins, B. R., & Cornwell, J. M. (2002b). Pink triangles: Antecedents and consequences of perceived workplace discrimination against gay and lesbian employees. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 12441261.

 

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