Interdisciplinary Research: LGBTQ Rights in Corporations
How can modern corporations use corporate messaging, such as advertising and human resource initiatives, to foster a culture of inclusion for LGBTQ employees? In a world where businesses are globalizing every day, it has never been more important for corporations to look for opportunities to expand their market into new consumer bases. Internally, companies can support pro-LGBTQ human resource initiatives that can help retain LGBTQ employees and show how they are appreciated and valued by their employers. These two tactics represent major opportunities for companies to work toward an inclusive future. Success is contingent upon a broad understanding of the cross-section among public relations, intercultural communication, diversity, and management.
Definition of the Problem
It is a relatively new phenomenon for companies to deliberately seek to serve the LGBTQ population. This group was marginalized in American society for most of the country’s history which means that companies were not under social pressure to adjust their public relations message or their management styles to accommodate LGBTQ customers and employees. That is changing however, in the twenty-first century, as companies are redesigning themselves to sustain a diverse workforce that hopefully represents a diverse clientele. Companies like Starbucks and American Apparel have outwardly supported marriage equality initiatives and support LGBTQ employees by supporting same-sex partnerships with employee benefits (Nichols, 2016).
As LGBTQ people gain more visibility in society, there are opportunities for corporations to reach them through deliberate public relations initiatives such as community engagement. LGBTQ employees who already work for major corporations can stand to be supported through new human resource initiatives that cater to their needs. For examples, companies can offer domestic partner benefits and additional medical insurance coverage for transgender employees and their specific healthcare needs. Now that LGBTQ are more visible than ever before, corporations must bridge the gap and commit to promoting LGBTQ equality both outside and inside their corporation.
Justification for Interdisciplinary Research
This topic is best addressed through an interdisciplinary approach. On its face, it is a discussion of where business meets culture and the line of communication must take intercultural communication tactics and diversity into account. Community connections are made possible at the cross-section of public relations and intercultural communication. When it comes to connecting with local communities, corporations can connect with the culture of the LGBTQ community to establish their presence. For example, Barclays did this by sponsoring the 2014 Pride Festival in London and thereby projecting a pro-LGBTQ image into the community through strong public relations (How do you nurture a gay-friendly workplace? 2015).
Improving internal corporate messaging through human resources also requires an interdisciplinary approach. In order to understand what corporations, need to offer to LGBTQ employees in order to voice corporate support, management must be in tune with what diversity requires in the workplace. This includes knowing what the specific needs of LGBTQ employees are, as far as employee benefits and inclusive workspaces go. This represents a sort of intercultural communication that should inform management. Management tactics, in turn, produce the human resource initiatives that can make a workplace inclusive.
There are a few disciplines relevant to my research question. For example, to determine the best ways for corporations to reach out to the LGBTQ community, it is important to study public relations and business, specifically, how corporations promote their public image and have their brand engage with the community. Tied into this issue is the discipline of finance which can color a conversation about how LGBTQ outreach and community engagement might affect a corporation’s bottom line (Fullerton, 2013).
When it comes to studying a company’s internal messages such as human resource initiatives, the relevant details are human resources and general management. These disciplines bring elements of business standards and best practices to the conversation about how to best achieve equality in the workplace for LGBTQ employees. In general, the academic discipline of cultural diversity also informs my research question. For example, the broader question of how LGBTQ inclusion affects gender equity in the workplace relies upon research in gender distribution at the executive level (Cook & Glass, 2016).
To start the literature search, I created a system map that broke down my research question into four management elements and then drew connections between them using the relevant disciplines (Repko & Szostak 2017). My initial systems map helped me identify disciplines that would be useful to my research. For examples, two of the elements were “support of LGBTQ employees” and “workplace equity.” These two elements were connected through the discipline of human resources. After creating my systems map, I began to search online for academic journal articles and media journal articles that spoke to my research question as well as those that were tangentially related by discussing one or more of the relevant disciplines.
I primarily used EBSCO to conduct my research. I began by searching directly for terms like “LGBTQ employees” and “workplace equality.” I started with specific terms to gauge the specificity of prior research conducted on my topic. From there, I broadened my search terms to cast a wider net. This second, broader search brought be to media articles like “The Case for a Raise” from Advocate (Harmon, 2010). This piece, an opinion editorial, brought a perspective that differed from the peer-reviewed articles I had been looking at. The introduction of op-eds in my research brought the first-hand experience of business practices and workplace dynamics into the discussion.
This was particularly valuable to the part of my research question that focused on corporate engagement with the LGBTQ community because one of the hallmarks of the article was how companies can demonstrate their “pro-gay” chops by sending their money to LGBTQ-friendly causes and non-profits (Harmon, 2010). By expanding my research search terms and venturing beyond only academic journal articles to also include op-eds from magazines, I was able to attract a comprehensive variety of sources. Op-eds are a good source of knowledge for my problem because they can provide first-hand accounts of the problem in action.
Develop Adequacy in Each Discipline
Diversity studies is the overarching discipline that informs this research question because the other disciplines work within it to establish answers. This means that public relations opportunities can only benefit a company’s efforts at LGBTQ inclusion if they speak with a diverse voice because the goal of public relations, in the context of this research question, is to reach a diverse audience and bring new voices into the fold.
The business discipline also works under the arch of diversity studies because management can benefit from allowing a diverse team set standards in the workplace. This means creating a set of managers or executives that are representative of the workforce that the company wants to produce. This can have positive effects of employees who see themselves reflected in management and might be more likely to stay loyal to their company. Just like brand loyalty, employee loyalty can be an added bonus for companies that make diversity a priority.
These different disciplines all coalesced nicely under the arch of diversity studies and the disciplinary overlap was helpful when conducting my literature search. It makes sense that companies seeking to include a formerly-silent segment of the workforce in their efforts toward an inclusive future would aim to include diversity into everything they do. This is true because everything comes down to communication. It is necessary for companies to be able to communicate to their target audience.
Analyze the Problem & Evaluate Insights
The business and finance disciplines brought to light a lot of relevant issues that informed my research question. For example, many articles showed strong examples of how some companies are (and others are not) using community and inter-organizational connections to show their LGBTQ-friendly policies. One unexpected fact was that some companies boast their LGBTQ-friendly stance by supporting their employees with non-discrimination policies, etc., while, at the same time, donating their money to anti-LGBTQ lobbies and socially conservative politicians (Harmon, 2010). In addition, companies can also fall short by putting to heavy an emphasis on employees’ identities and their ability to openly identify as “gay” in the workplace (Theriault, 2017). On the one hand, this support is important to build trust between employees and management. On the other hand, it can infringe upon the visibility of other minorities, such as racial minorities and disabled employees.
By integrating the business discipline, I gained insight into management strategies and the ways companies use their money to voice their support for the LGBTQ community. More importantly, I also learned how these corporate efforts can sometimes be hypocritical, as in the case of the corporation that donates to anti-LGBTQ causes, and generally imperfect, such as departments that over-emphasize the gay identity of employees.
The discipline of human resources brought many valuable articles into play. I learned that some major companies, like Bank of America, have instituted mentorship programs to connect minority employees, including LGBTQ-identified workers (Fullerton, 2013). In addition, more obvious human resources support tactics, such as the offering of benefits inclusive of domestic partnerships, etc., can be an obvious way for companies to support LGBTQ employees (Ferber, 2014).
In addition to benefits and mentorship programs, studying the human resources discipline introduced the concept of effective internal corporate communication. For example, TD Ameritrade used in-house communication channels to spread the word about the company’s support to LGBTQ employees, thereby reaching out to the workforce-at-large to express their position toward a valuable minority group (Douglas, 2007).
The discipline of diversity studies was another valuable addition to my research. These articles were able to expand the scope of the research question to include the effects of LGBTQ inclusion on the corporate general corporate culture. For instance, a study of the effects of LGBTQ inclusiveness in college athletic departments found that a success-oriented and respectful culture yielded positive results on inclusive attitudes for employees, athletes, and athletic organizations (Cunningham, 2015).
One of the most valuable contributions that diversity studies made to my research was the inclusion of gender dynamics in the workplace. For instance, LGBTQ inclusion and gender equity are closely tied, and the most inclusive workplaces benefit from an executive board that evenly split between men and women (Cook & Glass, 2016). LGBTQ studies and the study of gender equity are closely tied because they both involve expanding the role of gender in the corporate sphere. These different disciplines brought a variety of important input to my research.
Conflicts between Insights & Sources
Overall, there was a lot of consensus among the articles I studied concerning what some best practices were for reaching out to LGBTQ employees. The most interesting potential conflict was actually a conflict that some companies themselves face. This would be the hypocrisy of using in-house communication and human resource tactics to support LGBTQ employees while concurrently using corporate funds to aid and abet anti-LGBTQ lobbies and political candidates and leadership. It was curious to me that companies in the same industry, i.e. banking and finance, were often the perpetrators of this hypocrisy. This is a glaring example of corporate unethical practices and should counteract whatever ostensible support the corporation may offer to LGBTQ employees.
Another potential conflict was the insight offered by Theriault regarding openly gay employees in the recreation industry (Theriault, 2017). This article spoke to the minority groups who might lose their voices when there is too much emphasis placed on LGBTQ identities in the workforce. This article poses a conflict because it seems to denigrate the potential benefits of identity politics as a means of organizing likeminded individuals to support their common welfare. There are no necessary pitfalls for other minorities when LGBTQ employees band together to support their welfare. In fact, such organization can be a benefit to other minority groups that seek similar acknowledgment from management.
Finally, the issue of the gender makeup of an executive board can be controversial. The research I found supported a mixed gender executive board to produce the most inclusive results for an organization. However, it would appear logical that an executive board that was made up of primarily minority individuals, which would translate to majority female, might have the most positive impact on organizational inclusivity.
Common Ground & Conclusion
There is a lot of common ground among the theories and research I encountered that can be considered causal relationships (Repko & Szostak, 2017). For example, there is a relationship between companies who perform external LGBTQ outreach and those who use in-house communication methods to express support for LGBTQ employees. The connection here can be expressed in a single word: consistency. Consistency extends to companies who use their corporate funds to donate money to pro-gay causes and non-profits. This contrasts with companies that ostensibly support LGBTQ employees, through measures such as offering inclusive benefits packages, while donating corporate money to anti-LGBTQ causes.
Real inclusivity in the corporate sphere depends on consistency. Not only is common ground in my research supported by common themes, like the need for consistency, but also the theories presented naturally borrow elements from other disciplines which makes it easier for me to draw overarching conclusions based on common patterns (Repko & Szostak, 2017). The common pattern to the theories I came across was the importance of communication to express corporate support for the LGBTQ community, whether it was community outreach efforts or in-house communication.
One article spoke to the explicit impact on attitude that inclusive policies can have on employees and management (Cunningham, 2015). A potential link for common ground among theories might be how inclusive policies impact employees beyond the obvious benefits of a supportive human resources staff and management. For instance, it matters how such policies affect workplace dynamics and feelings of acceptance and belonging by LGBTQ employees. By extension, it is also important to understand how external communication strategies impact the LGBTQ community through community outreach initiatives.
Constructing a More Comprehensive Understanding
After conducting my research, I am more interested than ever in how corporations will continue to evolve to accommodate shifting dynamics in the workforce. LGBTQ employees were not always considered a priority in the workplace and companies, by and large, have work to do in order to express the kind of the support that these employees need. Of course, beyond employee support, corporations can reach out to the community and supporting their causes and charities to show support for their LGBTQ employees. These initiatives represent powerful public relations moves that will carry corporations into a more inclusive future that can sustain a diverse group of employees.
This project introduced me to the process of designing an interdisciplinary research project. Armed with suggestions from the text such as creating a system map and identifying causal relationships among theories, I was able to conduct original research that drew from the disciplines of business, finance, human resources, public relations, and diversity studies. In some of these areas, I had pre-existing academic experience, but others were new to me. This pushed me to expand my own boundaries and explore new areas of interest.
It was fascinating to me the way seemingly disparate disciplines could inform one another. This was helpful after I narrowed down my research question to LGBTQ inclusion in corporations. I chose a narrow topic that could still be explored from many different angles. I challenged myself to move beyond the more obvious disciplines like business and include the more specific discipline of human resources. This, in turn, brought in elements of management styles that continued to inform how I came to perceive LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace.
I was most impressed with how the theme of communication cut across disciplines. For this reason, I amended my research question slightly to include both internal corporate communication and messaging in addition to public relations messaging and community outreach. For the purposes of future research, insight into advertising techniques by corporations that wish to reach the LGBTQ community would add meaning to the element of external corporate communication.
I believe that I will definitely use my interdisciplinary research skills as I move forward in my academic and professional life. The ability to explore a topic from multiple angles has impacted my critical thinking skills and made me a more careful researcher and thinker. I look forward to using my research skills on other projects in the future.
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