The fair brought prospective workers and young professionals face to face with companies looking to expand their LGBT and ally workforce, including Walgreens, Boeing and NASA. Out For Work Operations Manager Alex Gant said it’s important to create a career conference for the LGBT community and address the very specific issues of dealing with being open in the workplace.
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Timothy McKenna (Ohio University) suggests some key “Takeaways” on this story:
This particular news story highlights the complexities of difference in organizational communication and how they might influence everyday practices of organizing. Simply put, “difference is both a construct – a sensitizing device – through which the complexities of organizational communication processes can be examined and a constitutive feature of everyday organizing” (Mumby, 2011, p. ix). This past year I was fortunate enough to attend the national Out For Work conference in Chicago, highlighted here in the article, and so I offer three key takeaways as we engage in these conversations.
First, this conference begins the socialization process for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students entering the workplace. The article points out the invisibility of the LGBT identity, in that unlike “typical” demographic characteristics, the LGBT identity marker is not apparent on the surface-level. In essence, a student could “pass” as straight at a career fair if they wanted to because it is not a defining physical attribute. Many LGBT students seeking jobs attempt to hide or mask this identity until they can discern whether or not the organization is a “safe space.” However, this conference provides that “safe space” from the beginning and helps students move beyond differences towards organizational acceptance.
Second, the conference highlights that if an individual is able to be him/herself in the organization, they are much more likely to live up to their full potential as an employee. The article suggests that being “out” might not have anything to do with an individual’s actual job duties or expectations, yet it does influence the individual’s communication in the workplace. If we consider Petronio’s (2002) Communication Privacy Management theory, “closested” employees may constantly be considering what types of information they should conceal or disclose. And if someone is managing their identity, they might have a more difficult time managing their communication and focusing on their job responsibilities in the workplace.
And finally, something else to question from this article is in relation to Kirby and Krone’s (2002) journal article “The Policy Exists But You Can’t Use It.” While I am a strong advocate of career fairs and conferences such as these, the true test lies beyond the career fair in the lived experiences of organizational culture. Policies of non-discrimination and domestic partner benefits for LGBT populations (that these organizations were promoting at the conference) may exist on paper, but we do not know how they are enacted until we are immersed in the organizational culture.
With this I pose the following question: How do we as organizational scholars, practioners, and students enact and foster difference as a central feature in organizations?
Kirby, E. L., & Krone, K. J. (2002). “The policy exists, but you can’t use it”: Communication and the structuration of work-family policies. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 30, 50-77. doi. 10.1080/00909880216577
Petronio, S. (2002). Boundaries of privacy: Dialectics of disclosure. New York: State University of New York Press.