"Thank you for letting me be myself": Exploring the effects of identity management strategies on engagement levels of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees
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In spite of the fact that discussions regarding the social inequality of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals have been at the forefront of the U.S. national dialogue over the last decade, and estimates suggest that LGB employees comprise between 6 and 17 percent of the workforce (Gonsiorek & Weinrich, 1991), little is known about the experiences of these individuals at work. The limited research that exists suggests that inclusive diversity programs (e.g. gay-friendly organizational policies and practices, such as same-sex partner benefit programs), LGB employee experiences and fears of discrimination, and decisions regarding the disclosure of their sexual orientation are of central concern for LGB employees. However, at present only a small number of empirical studies have been conducted, resulting in relatively inconclusive findings. For example, research on the role of the environment at work with respect to LGB employee disclosure decisions has generated evidence that disclosure is related to both reduced and increased levels of discrimination. Explanations for these mixed findings includes evidence that the decision to disclose or not disclose one's LGB identity is driven by a multitude of factors such as individual attitudes suggesting that elements of the organizational environment may be more useful if considered a context in which LGB employees enact disclosure decisions. In addition, evidence suggests that the decision to disclose one's LGB identity is much more complex than a simple "to tell" or "not to tell" dichotomy. This complexity, theoretically and empirically captured in the concept of identity management strategies, has been argued to have detrimental effects on the well-being and productivity of LGB employees. However, as of yet there has been little research conducted to empirically investigate these claims. I propose that employee engagement, articulated by Kahn (1990) as a psychological presence in which workers are able and motivated to fully employ and express themselves physically, cognitively and emotionally at work, offers a useful framework in which to examine the potential effects of identity management. Employee engagement incorporates both the well-being of employees and the repercussions with respect to their performance, conceptually capturing the range of outcomes speculated to be related to identity management. Therefore, this study investigates the impact of identity management on LGB employee engagement. Data was collected via an online survey of a national sample of self-identified LGB employees, obtained through announcements posted on gay and lesbian news and information websites, social network websites, and occupation-related online discussion boards. Findings suggest that while aspects of Kahn's model of engagement apply to LGB employees, other configurations of the conditions of engagement may be more appropriate for these workers. Additionally, the findings indicate that in work environments perceived as less psychologically safe with respect to being lesbian, gay or bisexual, strategies of identity management used to avert disclosure of oneâ s sexual orientation may help reduce the negative impact of non-disclosure on engagement, while integrating one's LGB identity at work, particularly in environments perceived as psychologically safe, may have positive implications for LGB employee engagement.
- Doctoral Dissertations