Managing Sexual Diversity at Workplace
As we witnessed in the recent general election, lesbian and gay male civil rights are currently a topic of great, and heated, debate in the United States. Despite the high visibility of lesbian and gay individuals (Button, 2001) in real life and the popular media, i. e. , Vice Presidential daughter Mary Chaney, former New Jersey Governor James McGreevy, and Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, etc. , Americans still appear to be deciding the role lesbians and gay men will play in society (Creed & Scully, 2000), in addition to the extent of their participation in mainstream America.
These circumstances are reminiscent of those before women and African Americans were legally recognized as eligible for full participation in society (Bond & Pyle, 1998). Certainly, organizations continue to discriminate against these groups despite this recognition. In response, these groups have developed strategies to overcome the barriers they encountered, which “culminated in the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, and much unrest in the 1960s” (Bond & Pyle, 1998, p. 253).
Since then, Affirmative Action (AA) and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws were established to ensure that women and racioethnic minorities were legally protected from discrimination in the work place
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Instead of focusing on eliminating discrimination because it was the right thing to do (Bond & Pyle, 1998), diversity management focused on why diversity simply made good business sense (Kelly & Dobbin, 1998). Further, diversity management proponents asserted that all employees are individually unique, and that uniqueness was to be valued. This meant that everyone had something to contribute to the organization by virtue of being different, so everyone was important and no one was excluded.
Despite this shift to inclusivity, and that lesbians, gay men, bisexual and/or transgendered (LGBT) individuals comprise 4% to 17% of the work force, sexual orientation is not prominently featured in the diversity literature (Ragins, 2004). Unlike women and racioethnic minorities, whose differences are visible much of the time, lesbians and gay men are not legally protected from workplace discrimination under Federal law (Ragins, 2004). Some state, city, and local governments do, however, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, inside and outside of work.
Such legal protections for lesbian and gay male employees were found to be “significantly related to reduced reports of discrimination” (Ragins, 2004, p. 47) in the workplace among these groups. In addition to the legislative protections cited above, some companies have instituted policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace (Button, 2001). These policies were found to be most effective when accompanied by the support of top management (Day & Schoenrade, 2000).
There are a number of organizations that extend compliance to inclusivity by instituting policies and practices which encourage lesbian and gay male employees to participate fully in all their organizations have to offer. Such policies and practices include same sex partners in benefit coverage, inviting same sex partners to company sponsored events and celebrations, outreach to the LGBT market by sponsoring events in the LBGT community, and corporate philanthropy to LGBT groups. These policies and practices have been termed “affirming” (Button, 2001, p. 17).
Such organizations may be “safe havens” and they seem to have a positive impact on lesbian and gay male employees (Ragins, 2004). The reality seems to be that companies must manage their human resources efficiently and effectively; organizations cannot afford to have the energy of 4-17% of their workforce suppressed. Discrimination seems counterproductive in our competitive global economy. In a literal sense, employers cannot afford to be inaccessible or hostile to potential lesbian and gay male employees and need to recognize, recruit, and retain talent in all its forms (Griffeth & Hebl, 2002).
In addition, there is a growing trend in the U. S. toward disclosure, and this trend may necessitate “an approach of workplace tolerance…” (Day & Schoenrade, 2000, p. 347), as disclosure can cause conflict. The conflict arises because many straight employees are “uncomfortable with the idea of working with homosexuals…” (Day & Schoenrade, 2000, p. 347), in part because they object to homosexuality on religious or moral grounds (Ragins, Cornwell, & Miller, 2003).
While there is much work to be done, there is a growing body of academic LGBT literature which provides direction and context to this work. Specifically discussed below are how the needs and concerns of lesbians and gay men differ from those of women and racioethnic minorities, and managing a lesbian or gay identity at work. LGBT Employees’ Differences While Kersten (2000) was specifically addressing race and gender in her discussion of dialoguing to a “joint world” (p. 239), this could be said of all differences.
Despite the fact that race and ethnicity are not “natural categories”, and that the concept of sexual orientation has been fluid over time, the issues and concerns of women and racioethnic minorities have wide spread validity in the mainstream as evidenced by the legal Federal protections enacted on behalf of these groups such as AA and EEO (Horowitz & Newcomb, 2002). However, social, political, and economic forces combined to change cognitions, affective patterns, and leadership behavior thus shifting the power differences between these groups and White men.
This has yet to happen at the Federal level for lesbians and gay men, so their issues and concerns do not have that same widespread validity (Ragins, 2004). This is possibly because they represent the “cultural other” in a heterosexist society (Lorbiecki & Jack, 2000, p. 28). When compared to other stigmatized groups, lesbians and gay men are consistently found the least likeable (Griffith and Quinones, 2004). Griffith and Quinones (2004) found that rater values affected the ratings given to straight job applicants and identically qualified lesbian or gay male applicants.
There are a number of jobs that people believe that lesbians and gay men should not have, and heterosexuals were found to have higher overall job suitability ratings in an experimental setting than are lesbians and gay men (Griffith & Quniones, 2004). Once on the job, lesbian and gay male employees face the confusion of having a lesbian or gay male identity be a welcome form of diversity in one organization, but “a form of deviance …” in another (Ragins, 2004).
Heterosexism likens to racism and sexism, but with a level of emotion not found in the latter two, while homophobia roughly parallels bigotry and misogyny (Ragins, et al. , 2003). On the surface, racism and sexism are no longer considered acceptable in our culture. Still, it appears that sexual orientation based discrimination continues to be viewed as valid in our society. Because of this, it is acceptable if not expected to treat lesbians and gay men differently, whether the motivation is self interest, values and beliefs as in heterosexism; or, fear or hatred as in homophobia (Ragins, et al.
, 2003). Our society now views women and racioethnic minorities as more legitimate and valued members than in the past, so it would be unusual to see such blatant negative treatment toward these groups. Why has the situation not improved as significantly for lesbians and gay men? Race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation may all be partially socially constructed (Warner, 2004), and there are differences and challenges for women, racioethnic minorities, and lesbians and gay men; however, there are unique challenges for lesbian and gay male individuals (Ragins, 2004).
Namely, these are (a) sexual orientation is perceived as a lifestyle choice, (b) invisibility, (c) potentially negative reactions from coworkers to disclosure, (d) the nature of sexual identity development for lesbians and gay men coupled with a lack of social support for going through the sexual identity development process, and (e) discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in most places.
Lesbian and gay male sexual orientation perceived as a lifestyle choice Heterosexuals, women, and racioethnic minorities are not believed to have chosen their sexual orientation, gender, or race respectively; however, lesbians and gay men are often believed to have chosen their sexual orientation (Ragins, et al. , 2003). This can lead to conflict with those who believe this choice to be immoral and/or in violation of religious principles (Ragins, et al. , 2003). When discussing sexual orientation as a choice, it is important to understand how dangerous and double edged this can be.
The idea of choosing sexual orientation is a matter of debate that appears to be without end, much like that of the nature versus nurture debate. In both cases, people have made their decisions about what is correct and do not seem inclined to change them. Some LGBT researchers believe that sexual orientation is not a choice any more than race can be one (Creed & Scully, 2000). Rather, a person may choose to identify as lesbian or gay, but that is not, and cannot be, synonymous with choosing to be a lesbian or gay man (Ragins, 2004). Invisibility
As we have already seen, there are affirming organizations whose members have chosen to include sexual orientation in their diversity definitions. This offers some protection and peace of mind for lesbian and gay male employees in such organizations. It also changes cognitive formations for straight employees by providing signals about the employer’s expectation about behavior toward lesbian and gay male coworkers. Button (2001) found that organizational policies which affirm sexual diversity were associated negatively with self-reports of treatment discrimination from lesbian and gay male employees.
Such polices are helpful in combating the invisibility challenge, but do not deal with it completely. For instance, the assumption of heterosexuality is ever present in our culture and its organizations (Ragins, 2004). Even in affirming organizations, lesbian and gay male employees generally must be out of the closet to benefit from affirmation directly (Clair, et al. , 2005). This forces a decision to disclose that other minority group members do not have to face as consistently (some racioethnic minorities or persons with disabilities may face such disclosure decisions if the individual difference is not readily apparent.
). If there is a lack of enforcement of affirming policies and practices, or consequence for violation, they will have no impact but to encourage people to stay silent and closeted (Clair, et al. , 2005). Griffith and Hebl (2002) found that “perceived employer gay-supportiveness” (p. 1191) was positively related to being out at work, and affirming policies were not associated with job satisfaction or job anxiety after accounting for the effects of perception of gay supportiveness. Further, the pair found that disclosure was related to higher job satisfaction and lower job anxiety (Griffith & Hebl, 2002).
Although coworker reaction to disclosure fully mediated both of these relationships, the researchers suggest that a gay-supportive environment may be a competitive advantage in recruiting. Loss of coworker support Some researchers support the notion that interpersonal relationships influence individual behavior. Intuitively, it makes sense that lesbians and gay men who enjoy positive relationships with coworkers and supervisors would be more likely to disclose. Empirically, it seems that lesbians and gay men who have social support may be more likely to disclose inside and outside of work (Ragins & Cornwell, 2001b).
Some researchers have found that lesbian and gay male employees had less fear of disclosure and were more likely to disclose in the presence of supportive coworkers and supervisors (Jordan & Deluty, 1998). Still, to disclose may cause a lesbian or gay man to lose coworker support they once had (Ragins, 2004). Coworkers of all sexual orientations may react negatively to such disclosure for many reasons. Some may have religious beliefs that do not tolerate homosexuality (Griffith & Quinones, 2004).
Alternatively, they may react negatively because they are fearful of catching a disease like AIDS, or of lesbians and gay men (homophobia); they may feel that their own heterosexuality is threatened; they may be afraid of being perceived as lesbian or gay by association; or, they may be so afraid of and averse to homosexuality that the behave in an aversively heterosexist manner (Ragins, 2004). Disclosure to a long term colleague may cause the colleague to wonder why the disclosure wasn’t made sooner and could lead to generalized feelings of distrust or betrayal (Ragins, 2008).
The nature of sexual identity development and concurrent lack of social support in this process Parks, et al. (2004) assert that sexual identity development is a continuously evolving process for lesbians and gay men. Development of a lesbian or gay sexual identity varies significantly based on age, gender, racioethnicity, and other individual factors (Parks, et al. , 2004). For heterosexuals, sexual identity development is thought to be more orderly and linear, so the heterosexual majority has difficulty comprehending why someone might not discover a lesbian or gay sexual identity until very well into adulthood and career establishment.
This combined with the significant social support for gender and racioethnic identities may make it more difficult for straight coworkers, and organizations themselves, to be more supportive of lesbian and gay male employees. Race and gender are ascribed not achieved (Ragins, 2004); this does not appear to be so for lesbian and gay male sexual identity. There are few resources or role models for lesbian and gay teens or adults (Parks, et al. , 2004), so they must chart a course alone or with a few trusted “similar others” and/or “identity supporters” (Ragins, 2004, p.
103). This social isolation combined with the other challenges lesbian and gay male employees face can further impair job performance and quality of life. The circumstances described in the preceding two paragraphs seem likely to contribute to the formation of a lesbian’s or gay man’s sexual identity group attitude. The particulars of sexual identity group attitude will be discussed in the section of this chapter called “Managing a Lesbian or Gay Male Sexual Identity in the Workplace”.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in most places Those researchers who have chosen to break the silence about sexual orientation in organizations seem to understand that organizations are not sexual orientation neutral (Tomlinson & Fassinger, 2003). These scholars accept that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual, plays a role in an individual’s experiences in no small part because of the largely legal institutional discrimination against these groups and all that lack of protection implies, i. e.
, the possibility of job loss because of one’s sexual orientation, and the resulting stress, and distraction from job performance which compound the possibility of an adverse employment action (Ragins, 2004). When faced with such sexual orientation discrimination and its consequences, as 25% to 66% of lesbian and gay male employees have reported (Ragins & Cornwell, 2001b), lesbians and gay male employees usually have absolutely no recourse; there is typically no legal remedy, but, this does vary a bit by geography.
It seems that the perception that sexual orientation is chosen actively is a factor in the discriminatory treatment LGBT people experience (Ragins, et al. , 2003). One interpretation of the results of the recent general election in the U. S. is that discrimination against lesbians and gay men is a socially acceptable form of overt discrimination. This may be true because most people do not believe that they know any one who is lesbian or gay (Button, 2001), so they may be unable to de-sexualize a lesbian or gay man and view her or him as a complete individual not shaped by sexual activity alone (Ragins, 2004).
Despite the fact that diversity management training outcomes are uncertain (Ivancevich & Gilbert, 2001), such training may be the only opportunity for some employees to learn about lesbian and gay individuals and issues, and may serve to lower anxiety among straight employees (Button, 2001). Managing a Lesbian or Gay Male Identity in the Workplace Generally a lesbian or gay sexual orientation is not visible, so lesbians and gay men must decide how to manage their stigmatized sexual identity at work (Clair, et al. , 2005).
This entails making disclosure decisions, such as to disclose or not, and if so, to whom and when (Ragins, 2008). Ragins and Cornwell (2001b) explain that these decisions are important career decisions and are difficult ones. While being out at work may yield quite positive results, there may also be serious negative consequences, such as discrimination, ostracism, harassment, abuse, career derailment, job loss, and physical violence to consider (Griffith & Hebl, 2002). Ragins and Cornwell (2001b) found that fear of disclosure affected actual disclosure.
In the sections to follow, it is proposed that (a) there are direct relationships between affirmative organizational policies and practices, social support at work, sexual identity group attitudes, fear of disclosure and disclosure, (b) there is a direct relationship between fear of disclosure and sexual group identity attitudes, (c) there are moderating relationships between fear of disclosure and social support and disclosure as well as between affirmative organizational policies and practices and disclosure, (d) there is a mediating relationship between fear of disclosure and the relationship between sexual identity group attitudes and disclosure, and (e) the effect sizes of the direct relationships between intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational influences and disclosure are different. The influence of suprasystem forces on disclosure As some LGBT researchers (Button, 2001; Chrobot-Mason, et al. , 2001; Ragins, 2004; Warner, 2004) assert, suprasystem, organizational, and interpersonal context must all be considered for their impact upon individual disclosure behavior. Certainly suprasystem forces do impact disclosure, as it has been found to be more frequent in places with legal protection for lesbians and gay men (Clair, et al. , 2005).
The influence of organizational forces on disclosure. Organizational forces are more proximal to the individual than are suprasystem ones, and disclosure is more likely in industries and occupations whose norms allow it (Clair, et al. , 2005). For instance, passing as straight might be strongly encouraged, or even required, under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the U. S. armed forces (Creed & Scully, 2000), whereas disclosing would likely be encouraged in human services work (Ragins, 2004). The existence and application of policies that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination have been found to influence disclosure positively (Griffith & Hebl, 2002).
So, too, have affirmative practices such as offering same sex domestic partner benefits (Button, 2001). Further, the presence of lesbian and gay affinity groups in an organization increases the likelihood of disclosure (Ragins, 2008). The influence of interpersonal forces on disclosure Moving along the continuum of proximity to the individual, there are interpersonal relationships that lesbian and gay male employees need to consider when choosing whether or not to disclose. Lau and Murninghan (2005) discuss the importance of proximal relationships in terms of how the positive social effects on individuals in subgroups may cause respondents to generalize that positivity to the whole group.
That certainly appears to be the case with regard to disclosure. For instance, at the interpersonal level, lesbian and gay male employees with social support at work are more likely to disclose (Day & Schoenrade, 2000). Within these interpersonal relationships, lesbian and gay male individuals are more likely to disclose to trusted colleagues. For instance, there is believed to be a greater likelihood of disclosure inside and outside of work when the target is perceived to be receptive based on demographics (i. e. , female, also lesbian or gay), or disposition (i. e. , sympathetic, knowledgeable) (Clair, et al. , 2005). The influence of intrapersonal influences on disclosure
Finally, and most proximal to the individual, there are intrapersonal differences that influence disclosure behavior (Griffith & Hebl, 2002). People with an invisible stigma must be aware of it before they can make a decision about disclosure and its risks and rewards (Ragins, 2008). Therefore, it is doubtful someone not out to herself or himself would disclose a lesbian or gay male sexual identity, regardless of the supportiveness of their interpersonal relationships, or the affirming nature of the organization, or the legal protections that may be available where they work. On an individual level, a strong lesbian or gay identity seems related to the decision to use integration and therefore, to disclose regardless of other factors (Chrobot-Mason, et al. , 2001).
Briefly, an individual with a preencounter attitude (preencounter attitude) views heterosexuality as the ideal against which to be compared, while one who holds an immersion-emersion sexual identity group attitude(immersion attitude) is captivated by her or his lesbian or gay sexual identity and may harbor anger toward heterosexism and homophobia in society (Button, 2001). Finally, an internalization sexual identity group attitude (internalization attitude) is characterized by feelings of security and satisfaction about having a lesbian or gay sexual identity (Button, 2001). All the attitudes are marked by “distinctive cognitive, conative, and affective elements” (Button, 2001, p. 19); therefore, they influence the selection and deployment of identity management strategies.
Fear of disclosure is another intrapersonal factor that may impact disclosure behavior. Indeed, Ragins and Cornwell (2001b) found that those who had more fear of disclosure were less likely to disclose, and contended that this fear may have more of a negative impact on lesbian and gay male workers than the consequences of disclosure themselves. Sexual identity group attitudes, identity management strategies, and fear of disclosure. There are many factors, contextual and individual, that influence an individual’s actions. Additionally, disclosure is not an all or nothing process (Clair, et al. , 2005). This is partially because there can be serious ramifications to disclosing (Ragins, et al.
, 2003). The choice of identity management strategies is a conscious one (Chrobot-Mason, et al. , 2001), based not only on a cost-benefit analysis (Clair, et al. , 2005), but sexual group identity attitude (Button, 2001). Sexual identity group attitudes reflect how individuals feel about membership in their sexual identity group (Button, 2001), and there are three attitudes pertinent to membership in a lesbian and/or gay male sexual identity group; preencounter, immersion-emersion, and internalization (Chrobot-Mason, et al. , 2001). Day and Schoenrade (2000) describe identity management simply as passing for straight or being openly lesbian or gay.
While the decision to be in or out of the closet sounds dichotomous and simple, it is not (Button, 2004). Button (2001) and Chrobot-Mason, et al. (2001) explain that there are three identity management strategies: (a) avoidance: not revealing anything about one’s sexual identity; (b) counterfeiting: actively constructing a fake heterosexual identity; and (c) integration: coming out as lesbian or gay at work and managing the consequences. Button (2001) found a preencounter attitude to be positively associated with counterfeiting and avoiding and negatively associated with integrating while finding the exact opposite for those with an internalization attitude.
An immersion attitude was positively associated with an integrating strategy, negatively associated with counterfeiting, and not related to avoidance (Button, 2001). Clair, et al. (2005) discuss identity management in terms of passing or revealing; however, they describe these terms in a more nuanced way. For instance, they cite three passing tactics; fabrication, concealment, and discretion (Clair, et al. , 2005). Fabrication is the same as counterfeiting, and discretion corresponds to avoidance. Concealment is “actively preventing others from acquiring” (Clair, et al. , 2005, p. 82) personal information. There are also three ways for a lesbian or gay male employee to reveal their sexualidentity.
These are (a) signaling: dropping hints or clues; (b) normalizing: revealing a lesbian or gay identity and then trying to make it seem commonplace; and (c), differentiating: calling attention to their sexual identity and presenting it as equally valid as heterosexuality (Clair, et al. , 2005). As most lesbian and gay male employees do not fully disclose (Ragins, 2004), a combination of strategies are used (Button, 2004). Despite what many, both gay and straight, seem to believe, disclosure is not necessarily the hall mark of self acceptance, nor an indicator of self esteem. The decision to disclose, or not, is based on individual differences, specifics of the organizational environment, and the relationships within (Clair, et al. , 2005).
We know that disclosure is more prevalent in affirming organizations (Ragins & Cornwell, 2001a) and in supportive coworker and supervisor relationships (Jordan & Deluty, 1998). However, there are individual differences that influence disclosure behavior at work (Chrobot-Mason, et al. , 2001). This seems to be supported by the finding that lesbians and gay men who have strong preencounter attitudes are not as affected by affirming organizational policies and practices as those who do not (Button, 2001). Ragins and Cornwell (2001a) found that affirming organizational policies had more impact on perception of discrimination and impact on discrimination than protective legislation.
Disclosure was found to be less likely when a person witnessed or experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the presence of gay coworkers and protective legislation and affirming policies did contribute to the decision to disclose (Ragins & Cornwell, 2001a). These findings provide some empirical evidence of what we know intuitively and anecdotally; some lesbians and gay men disclosed well before there were affirmative organizational policies and practices and/or protective legislation in effect, suggesting that intrapersonal factors have more to do with disclosure than more distal ones. Conclusion Despite its important and highly visible successes, it is well documented that diversity management has not yet achieved its full potential. This project is topical in that there has been much social discourse on lesbian and gay male civil rights recently.
This is important to organizations as well as to academics because what concerns the society in which they are embedded concerns them (Jamrug, 2004). The issue seems to have moved from one of expecting and/or forcing lesbians and gay men to remain totally invisible in American society, to acknowledging, embracing, and protecting their participation; deciding what that means; and, how it looks. The extent to which these things happen is likely to vary by community, organization, group, and individual. Imagine how different this would be if we expanded such an argument to consider race as a variable explicitly to understand fully the role it plays in organizations to sexual orientation.
If this were the case, researchers would need to go beyond identifying that there are, or are not, quantifiable differences between individuals of different sexual orientations, to exploring the sources of these differences. This would mean direct acknowledgement that people of different sexual orientation groups have different experiences within organizations by virtue of membership in that specific identity group. It is just a practical matter that people have to work in order to provide for personal and societal necessities. Still, the lesbian and gay male segment of the workforce has yet to be rigorously studied and understood (Ragins, 2004). It seems that this must happen if the diversity management literature and practice is to be truly inclusive, and realize its potential to improve both the competitive standing of organizations, and employees’ lives.
For instance, there are costs to concealing a key part of one’s identity (Ragins, 2008). For individuals, these include isolation (Ragins, 2004) and psychological strain (Ragins, 2008). These factors also impact organizations when they take energy and effort away from job performance (Ragins, 2004). It seems that employees expect different things from work and their employers than they have in the past. They relate to work differently than preceding generations, based on their values and priorities (Day & Schoenrade, 2000). Increasingly they expect, and are obtaining, individually tailored work arrangements (Jamrug, 2004) to accommodate these values and priorities.
The effort people make at concealing their sexual identities may detract from their ability to achieve performance potential, maintain high levels of organizational commitment, and be happy (Ragins, 2004). If, “individual attitudes about one’s sexual identity… influence behavior and attitudes towards one’s employer” (Button, 2001, p. 17); it seems that individuals, organizations, and society can all benefit from productive employment attitudes and behaviors. References Bond, M. A. , & Pyle, J. L. (1998). Diversity dilemmas at work. Journal of Management Inquiry, 7(3), 252-269. Button, S. B. (2001). Organizational efforts to affirm sexual diversity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 17-28. Button, S. B. (2004).
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