Lesbian identity management in workplace contexts: don’t ask, don’t tell in mainstream organizations Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Schmidt, Kathryn J.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
  • This project uses interviews with twenty lesbian workers in the late 1990s to analyze their understandings of the meaning of lesbian identity in their lives and their strategies for managing lesbian identity at work. Using identity management models focusing on methods of identity management (Dunne 1997; Griffin 1996) and on links between mainstream organizational contexts and identity management strategies (Lindsay et al 2006; Ward and Winstanley 2003), I link the symbolic interactionist tradition to individual workers’ strategies and to the larger political context in which the very meanings of lesbian identity are negotiated. The main contributions of this project include deeper understanding of workers’ strategies for dealing with stigmatized identities, especially those that may not be visible to others. I describe how workers understand the meanings of the identities they are managing, instead of exploring how workers manage an identity that is defined as stigmatized. I found people who defined their identity as a visual marker, those who perceive being lesbian as simply another facet of their identity to be integrated or compartmentalized from their work lives, and those who define lesbian as a political category. The meaning of lesbian identity to these workers and to those with whom they interact profoundly affects their identity management strategies. The study also demonstrates that many identity management strategies desexualize disclosures through mentioning daily activities or specific partners rather than sexual identity. My study thus offers examples of workers’ struggles over how sexuality will be enacted and spoken in workplaces. Previous studies argue that workers’ disclosures are shaped by formal organizational protections, desire to gain domestic partner benefits, and efforts to be integrated people at work (Dunne 1997; Griffin 1998; McDermott 2006; Raeburn 2000; Rasi and Rodriguez-Nogues 1995; Ward and Winstanley 2005). The study contributes to an understanding of how workers used formal non-discrimination policies primarily as signals of welcoming cultures rather than for the benefits the policies provided. Overall, the study contributes to the workplace identity management literature by showing how people manage a stigmatized identity during a time of rapid social change in the meanings of that identity.
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  • In Copyright
  • Cohen, Philip N.
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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