Gender & Sexual Orientation in the Workplace Research Paper Starter

Gender & Sexual Orientation in the Workplace

An overview of several of the issues generated by gender and sexual orientation challenges in the workplace touching on occupational segregation, the wage gap, glass ceiling, and sexual prejudice all within the context of corporate culture. Both women and those within the LGBT community face substantial challenges in the workplace, some stemming from homophobia and heterosexism, others from sexual harassment and the pressures of either adopting the traits of hegemonic masculinity or buckling beneath them. Of course men are not immune to these sociological challenges whether it is sexual harassment as a heterosexual man, or occupying a traditionally female position. The article also touches on the special issues those suffering from Gender Identity Disorder may face as well as the common tactics employers adopt in order to help a transgender individual adapt to the workplace after sex-reassignment surgery. The second part of the paper briefly explores the phenomenon of Pink Corporate Culture and whether it is a viable challenge to the traditional masculine way of business. Ultimately the issues generated by gender and sexual orientation in the workplace reach far beyond the office walls.

Keywords Corporate Culture; Gender Identity Disorder; Glass Ceiling; LGBT; Hegemonic Masculinity; Heterosexism; Homophobia; Occupational Segregation; Occupational Sexism; Sex-Reassignment; Sexual Harassment; Sexual Prejudice; Transgender; Wage Discrimination; Wage Gap



Gender and sexual orientation in the workplace is an increasingly important topic especially as government policies change and cultural acceptances shift. It is a multidimensional topic that covers early childhood cultural pressures as well as day to day interactions in the office, as the workplace offers a microcosmic snapshot of the cultural atmosphere. Women in particular have long suffered such injustices as wage gaps, sexual harassment and glass ceilings, while members of the LGBT community have only recently been given a voice with which to address the prejudices and disparities experienced within the corporate culture of businesses.

Many sociologists feel that these problems of gender and sexual orientation in the workplace have strong and firmly placed roots in the cultural norms to which we are introduced as children. As adults we bemoan the sexual inequality that we experience every day in the workplace, but we still reinforce and encourage gender traits traditionally exhibited by each sex in our children. Wage gaps and discrimination along with occupational sexism and segregation are still prominent in the workplaces of the 21st century. Women regularly bump their heads on glass ceilings because of a perceived lack of masculine traits that are more suited to management positions, yet parents, society, and educational institutions still encourage traditionally gender-assigned traits to growing boys and girls. Girls are expected to be kind, caring, nurturing and passive while boys are expected to be aggressive, ruthless, ambitious and pragmatic. These traits are then attached to later success or failure as adults in the business world since stereotypically male traits are generally seen as a pathway to success, while stereotypically female traits are seen as necessary for supporting roles in business. Lipsey, et al. (1991) refer to this situation as a "culture trap" since children are nurtured into these socially acceptable roles as children, causing them to adopt certain attitudes and beliefs that may later create professional difficulties.

Interestingly, there have been situations where the concept of hegemonic masculinity has been turned on its head. Corporations who primarily target both women as workers and women as consumers have found tremendous success by favoring feminine traits above masculine ones. Putting family first may seem like a risk in the traditionally masculine world, but these Pink corporations have found that gentle compassion has actually made for a strong inner community as well as well-rounded and enthusiastic workers.

Regardless of the success of Pink corporations, heterosexual men still appear to have the upper hand in business. Though the tides appear to be turning in favor of those traditionally marginalized populations like women and gays, the business world still has a long way to go before it reaches an atmosphere of true equality.

Women in the Workplace

Though women have been a part of the workforce for well over a century, their presence in the workplace has had many ramifications, and generated many challenges for both men and women in the professional environment. Gender bias has been repeatedly demonstrated through many studies conducted in multiple work environments over the last several decades.

Occupational Sexism

Occupational sexism is essentially any kind of discrimination based on a worker's gender. Most often the term is applied to situations where women are being oppressed by their male co-workers or supervisors, but certain situations allow for men to be discriminated against as well.

One particularly scrutinized issue is that of wage discrimination. Though many had hoped that the days of women earning less money than their male counterparts were long gone, an income disparity still exists. Wage discrimination is still a major issue with women making an average of $0.77 for every dollar earned by men in the same position in 2013. Wage discrimination is demonstrated in a wide spectrum of occupations.

Though wage discrimination is still a viable concern, research has indicated that the glass ceiling for women workers finally appears to be cracking since there are significantly more women in managerial positions. This increase in the higher positions in the workplace also filters down to benefit the women in non-managerial positions as well. When more women are found in high status positions, the wages of the female employees are effectively raised throughout the managerial hierarchy of a company. However, the absence of females in high-status positions in particular companies or industries leaves the wage gap firmly in place (Cohen & Huffman, 2007).

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment has become a highly sensitive area for many corporations because of various lawsuits and protective policies that have developed. In the scope of sociology, sexual harassment becomes an especially charged topic when it takes the rather non-traditional form of women sexually harassing men. Though there has been plenty of documentation to indicate that both dynamics of harassment do occur in the workplace, men are far more likely to be the target of disciplinary action because of the application of sexual stereotypes. Men are less likely to report sexual harassment by a female co-worker or boss because of the personal and professional ramifications of their perceived masculinity. The hegemonic male is aggressive and sexually robust, and so any man who reports being sexually harassed by a woman is effectively psychologically castrated by his peers because he is seen as weak and submissive. Some studies have even indicated that the psychological effects of sexual harassment on men are actually more severe than those experienced by women who have been sexually harassed (Street, Gradus, Stafford & Kelly, 2007).

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals

Just as women have struggled in the workplace, the LGBT community has also been met with considerable challenges. The decision to come out to family members and friends is often a troublesome issue for many in the LGBT community, but the decision to come out at work is laced with serious ramifications that affect the individual's day to day life.

Homophobia, Heterosexism

A large percentage of the gay population has stated that they have experienced harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Gay workers are often denied promotions, pressured to quit, or are held at a lower pay rate that their coworkers. It is also important to point out that this kind of sexual prejudice, or heterosexism, is still a legitimate concern since there is no federal protection against to firing an employee on the grounds of homosexuality and, as of 2013, twenty-nine states do not explicitly prohibit that form of discrimination. Even those corporations that embrace their gay workers by providing them with domestic partner benefits, support groups, and special training programs are often reluctant to have these workers publically associated with their company for fear of being considered a gay corporation (Hereck, 2000).

Another interesting phenomenon occurs within the LGBT community itself. Many younger LGBT workers, who were raised in a culture far more accepting of homosexuality, are more vocal and tend to fight more aggressively to obtain equality in the work place. Those workers who are older and were raised with a cultural stigma of homosexuality are more likely to stay in the closet, or at least be more subtle about their sexual identity. This is true not only among co-workers, but also among customers and business contacts as well (Hereck, 2000).

Gender Identity Disorder in the Workplace

Transgendered individuals have an even more complex sociological situation in the workplace since they may have already clearly established themselves as one gender among their co-workers before making the transition. Co-workers and supervisors may actually be witness to the entire sex reassignment process, and as the transition becomes more complete the inter-office relationships that the transgendered individual has honed as a member of one sex will inevitably change as they become the opposite sex (Prentiss & McAnulty, 2002).

Many heterosexuals who have never been exposed to this kind of situation may find it difficult to understand the significant difference between being gay and being transgendered. This level of misunderstanding can lead to extreme situations of alienation, harassment and prejudice. Some transgender employees find it easier to orchestrate a resignation prior to the reassignment process through upper management, and then a re-hiring as a member of the opposite sex once the sex reassignment is complete (Prentiss & McAnulty, 2002).

Occupational Segregation

Another important dimension of gender and sexual orientation in the work place is gender stereotyping of professional roles, which is referred to as occupational segregation. While some jobs are considered traditionally female (seamstress, waitress, nurse, teacher, secretary etc.), others are considered traditionally male (doctor, lawyer, pilots, mechanics, architects, etc.). Though there has been significant movement to close the wage gap, there has been little movement towards removing the occupational stereotypes that beget occupational segregation.


Though it has been shown time and time again that women are equally as capable in most occupational roles as men, occupational segregation still persists. For women, obtaining positions that are traditionally male is difficult, and they often find many corporate hurdles that their male counterparts do not experience. In America, this is primarily due to the masculine management style that has been socially accepted as equating to success. Kanter (1997) states that women's lack of authoritarian attitudes, lack of aggression, and readiness to accept responsibility are key factors in women being unable to overcome professional hurdles as easily as their male counterparts. All of these factors are polar opposite to the...

(The entire section is 5108 words.)