Workplace contextual supports for LGBT employees: What actually works best?

The last ten years have seen a significant increase in visibility and representation from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the workplace. While the link between organisational factors and the work experiences of LGBT employees in the workplace has been studied comprehensively, an overarching framework to organise and compare the relative value of individual research findings, is missing. Such a framework would help employers and policy makers to make informed choices about how to create work environments which are more supportive of LGBT employees.

Professor J.R. Webster et al. (Marquette University, Wisconsin) addressed this gap by undertaking a meta-analysis of three types of workplace supports:

  • Formal LGBT policies and practices
  • LGBT-supportive climate (The degree to which employees experience the organisational culture to be supportive of the LGBT community)
  • Supportive workplace relationships

 

For each workplace support, the researchers compared their relative impact on four outcomes:

  1. Work attitudes (job satisfaction and organisational commitment)
  2. Psychological strain (anxiety, depression, and emotional exhaustion)
  3. Disclosure
  4. Perceived discrimination.

 

The researchers discovered that all three forms of contextual support as an aggregate, are more strongly related to the outcomes of disclosure and perceived discrimination, compared to work attitudes and psychological strain.

Aim

The objective of the study was to identify the types of contextual support that are more effective in creating an inclusive, equitable and supportive work environment.
This was achieved by answering the following research question: How can organisations leverage disparate research findings about the impacts of LGBT workplace contextual support to develop an integrated structure that:

(a) explains the relative and amalgamated importance of the three types of contextual support on the professional lives of LGBT employees?
(b) deepens an understanding of the development and implementation of efficacious workplace diversity initiatives?
(c) enables future research and theory development?

Method

27 studies (articles and dissertations) were selected through an extensive manual and electronic search employing four criteria:

  1. Inclusion of a correlation coefficient or statistics that could be used to calculate a correlation
  2. Only US employees in samples
  3. Only LGBT employees in samples
  4. Studies must have reported a workplace contextual support and a plausible outcome.

The researchers conducted their analysis using a meta-analytic correlation matrix, through coding all of the relationships established from the primary studies.

Findings
  1. Policies: Formal policies and practices were found to be the weakest predictor of all four outcomes (Work attitudes – 4%; Psychological strain – 2%; Disclosure – 14%; perceived discrimination – 4%), relative to the other contextual supports
  2. Climate: LGBT-supportive workplace climate had the strongest relative importance to both disclosure and perceived discrimination and the second strongest relative importance to work attitudes and psychological strain
  3. Relationships: Supportive workplace relationships are the most reliable predictor of positive work attitudes and reduced psychological strain, relative to the other two types of contextual support
  4. Research: Future research should capture a broader range of LGBT workers’ experiences and ally behaviours, as the current samples may not fully represent the overall LGBT population, particularly women.
Implications
1. Formal policies and practices were found to be the weakest predictor of all four outcomes relative to the other contextual supports

Finding 1 indicates that the enactment of formal policies and practices within an organisation alone, while important, is insufficient to create an inclusive environment where LGBT employees can derive career satisfaction and success. Consistent implementation and enforcement is key and an inclusive culture is indicative of an effective policy In essence, the presence of policies and procedures is a poor proxy for inclusivity and LGBT workplace happiness.

2. LGBT-supportive workplace climate had the strongest relative importance to both disclosure and perceived discrimination and the second strongest relative importance to work attitudes and psychological strain

Finding 2 reveals that the perception of formal supportive LGBT policies and procedures in an organisation, (such as LGBT supportive values, beliefs and behaviours) is more important with respect to disclosure and perceptions of discrimination than the policies themselves. Consequently, it would be prudent for companies to solicit feedback from LGBT employees on their perceptions of the corporate climate to ensure that it is supporting positive organisational impacts.

3. Supportive workplace relationships are the most reliable predictor of positive work attitudes and reduced psychological strain relative to the other two types of contextual support

Finding 3 highlights the importance of having social support as a coping resource to reduce the negative effects of stress experienced by LGBT workers (eg arising from social isolation). Organisations are commended to create ways for allies and leader to proactively engage in supporting LGBT employees at work, and to give visibility to social support networks.

Based on these findings, the researchers highlight that assessment tools such as equality indexes might be neglecting the importance of corporate culture in truly having a positive impact on LGBT employees’ workplace outcomes. Organisations should ensure they understand the experiences and attitudes of their individual employees in order to truly evaluate their impact and identify further opportunities for improvement.

 

For more information, contact Rabin Suguna Balan

 

To read the full article, see Webster JR, Adams GA, Maranto CL, Sawyer K, Thoroughgood C. Workplace contextual supports for LGBT employees: A review, meta-analysis, and agenda for future research. Human Resource Management.

2018;57:193–210. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21873


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