Social media can complicate LGBTQ+ employees’ work lives

The study reveals three strategies used by LGBTQIA+ employees

As the use of social media in the workplace evolves, the line between personal and professional life and work is becoming increasingly blurred. But are managers aware of the dangers and behaviours of  LGBTQ+ employees on social media?

According to new research conducted by Professor Lucas Lauriano from the IESEG School of Management (France), managers are oblivious to the tactics used online by certain groups at work to avoid stigma, discrimination and abuse.

To assess the behaviours of the LGBTQ+ community online at work, Prof Lauriano spoke with a group of gay employees in the Brazilian subsidiary of a multinational manufacturing company.

The research entitled: “Losing Control: The Uncertain Management of Concealable Stigmas When Work and Social Media Collide” revealed that the men fell into two groups. Those that took steps to either ‘conceal’ or ‘reveal’ their stigmas at work to mitigate negative attitudes and behaviours.

Employees’ strategies

When concealing, employees tried to “pass” as non-stigmatised employees. LGBTQ+ employees who choose to ‘reveal’ their concealable stigma did so in three main ways: ‘signalling’, ‘normalising’ and ‘differentiating’.

Signalling involved LGBTQ+ employees speaking or behaving in ways typically associated with stigma in specific situations to observe the reactions of others.

When normalising, LGBTQ+ employees either consciously adopted behaviours attributed to stigmatised identities, such as talking freely about one’s same-sex partner or emphasised ‘normal’ social behaviours (being in a long-term relationship, having children, doing the routine).

Finally, differentiation involved implementing the specifics of stigma. For example, LGBTQ+ employees can highlight their sexuality to maximise their careers in gay-friendly organisations.

Stigmatised employees

Online, one group of LGBTQ+ employees mirrored their offline behaviour by keeping silent about their sexual preferences. The other group adopted what the authors of the study call an “online destigmatisation” strategy where the LGBTQ+ employees used the networks to emphasise their sexual orientation, post political statements and push the boundaries of what is considered “acceptable” in the workplace.

The study also analysed ‘collapse denial’, in which employees view online and face-to-face contexts as independent and act accordingly, resulting in disparate behaviours at work and on social network sites (SNSs). 

Issues may arise when managers begin incentivising and encouraging LGBTQ+ employees to use SNSs as forums for work discussion and showcasing corporate projects without realising the potential impact of the employee disclosing their stigma.

As many employees don’t feel comfortable allowing co-workers access to their online profiles, managers mustn’t assume that SNSs are safe places. Work often invades SNSs and requires constant effort from stigmatised employees to safely create and maintain these spaces.

Paying more attention

With all these dilemmas facing LGBTQIA+ employees, companies should pay more attention to the increasing breakdown of the work-life context on social media and the impact on groups that are now marginalised face-to-face. 

To be more inclusive, they need to understand and prevent the fact that employees with concealable stigmas are more likely than others to be in a state of disarray, particularly on social media.

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