Straight Jobs – Gay Lives in Europe: A Roadshow for neglected Diversity aspects

Most people claim that a person’s sexual orientation is a private matter and should not be discussed in the workplace. In addition, many stereotypes prevail saying that gay men would typically be found in some few professional niches like hairdressers, shop assistants, dancers or flight attendants. Therefore, it had been quite a surprise when Sharon Siverstein and Annette Friskopp published their study of the professional careers and workplace experiences of more than a hundred gay or lesbian Harvard MBA alumni.
Already the idea was intriguing: breaking several stereotypes at the same time by identifying former Harvard MBA graduates who happen to be gay or lesbian and inviting them to confidential, in-depth interviews. These covered several perspectives on being homosexual at work and during a career – both being often quite ambitious when looking at MBAs. The researcher were able to include 275 participants in their survey 100 of which were interviewed in addition to providing responses through a questionnaire. A key finding is that homosexuals who are open about their sexual orientation don’t report issues at work and most believe to be as successful as their straight colleagues. The study shows that it is virtually impossible to be either completely in the closet or completely out. Through the variety of experiences reported, Friskopp and Silverstein could show the landscape of existing discrimination from subtle exclusion to blackmailing. None of the persons reporting this were out at work. The book points to the importance of corporate culture and leadership behavior and shows how letting pass anti-gay jokes or comments or allowing hyper-heterosexuality contributes to concerns of gays and lesbians, encouraging them to stay in the closet – a vicious circle.
In terms of recommendations, the study extracted common ground from positive experiences and describes strategically planned coming out processes and how networking may support the individual as well as the organization. For the latter, the book gives a lot of good reasons to include LGBT on the diversity agenda. After all, the study found that 9% of LGBT MBAs were Baker Scholar, the Top 5% of graduates.
The Cologne-based management consultant, Michael Stuber, has analysed the study carefully and used it as a vehicle to start introducing the concept of “Diversity Management” at a number of events across Europe. Probably due to the chosen topic, it has been mainly gay or lesbian professional organisations that invited him to speak, including the German Gay Managers Association (VK) and the Dutch Professional Network (Genius). The latter held their annual convention at the castle of Renesse and Stuber reported later that he was glad about the interest and feedback. “In the Netherlands, the general acceptance of gays and lesbians in society is perceived to be very good”, he said, “but the gay managers at the event were glad to have been made aware of aspects that still need attention in order to get to the level of real normality”.