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Diversity In Work And Organization

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Managing Diversity at Workplace: British Telecom's Diversity and Equality Policy for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexuals

Introduction

British businesses witnessed a huge upsurge in the practice of business-oriented Managing Diversity approach seen as a better alternative to legally-enforced Equal Opportunities policies since the past decade. Managing a diverse workforce coupled with good HR practices has been the hallmark of successful organisations on all levels. Voluntary as well as politically and legally enforced policies have been constantly put forth to ensure fair treatment of the working people and eradicate the discrimination in terms of race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation and age. Each of the discriminatory grounds posed numerous challenges to the organisations and the state to know and implement best practices, among which the rights of Lesbians and Gays is currently among the hottest issues. The antagonism of religious bodies, the moral validity of homosexuality and the social stereotypes prevented an objective judgement and provision of their rights. The lofy claims of managing diversity proved hollow when it was questioned for reluctance and sluggishness to deal with lesbian and gay workers who were among the least favourable group with increasing number of bullying and harassment incidents against them. The following essay explores the theoretical and legislative perspectives of managing lesbian and gay workers as a diversity policy. The breadth of the issue transcends organisational limits and includes social debate around the topic which is beyond the range of this essay for the word constraint. So staying within the workplace circle the essay would represent the current issues related to lesbian and gay workers complemented with the case of British telecom that appeared to be a champion in devising a categorical diversity policy with an emphasis to eradicate Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual bullying and harassment and ensure fair treatment of all its workers.

Managing Diversity and Equal Opportunities_ A Brief Look

Equal opportunities (EO) approach preceded Managing Diversity (MD) wherein working people were protected under discrimination legislation for race, disability, gender, religion and belief, sexual orientation and age and was thought treating everyone in exactly the same way. MD emerged as voluntary and business driven approach incorporating as diverse factors as culture, personality and work-style. This meant the acknowledgment of the fact that treating individuals equally means treating everyone differently according to his/her needs. Equal opportunities approach being holistic proved to be inadequate to incorporate these wider diversity issues whereas MD approached to harness these differences in order to create a productive environment in which everybody feels valued. This widening and all-inclusive approach of MD questioned its practitioners why to be indifferent to the gay and lesbian workers' rights and demanded a bold stance to deal with issues related to this highly segregated group.

Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Workers_ A Current Challenge in Diversity Management

Oerton (1996) opines that organisations tend to be hostile towards lesbian and gay workers many of whom conceal their sexual orientation to avoid discrimination and harassment. This, Mills (1989) argues, is due to the organisational culture as the informal 'rules of behaviour' where heterosexuality is favoured as a symbol of gendered power relations. Oerton (ibid) building on Mills' perception says that in these rules homosexuality is subordinated because it poses threat to the maintenance of the gendered hierarchy. They conclude that a type of heterosexual hegemony comes to dominate the culture and discourse of the organisation with various detrimental consequences for lesbians and gay men (Oerton 1996 & Mills 1998). Kirton and Greene (2005) argue that organisational social life is also heterosexualised. They refer to the widespread usage of more neutral term 'partner' to replace wife/husband, boyfriend/girlfriend, but they think couples are still generally assumed to consist of a man and a woman. This heterosexual assumption deters lesbians and gays to disclose their partner to keep their sexual identity secret. According to the authors, this is one of the most insidious forms of indirect discrimination experienced by lesbians and gays and this represents a covert attack on the group's identity and dignity.

Cockburn (1991) regards equality for lesbians and gays as the most contested and conflictual of all equality projects because of the lack of consensus over the moral worthiness of the gay rights. He argues that the AIDS panic of 1980s, alcohol and drug abuse, obsession with sex and molestation are associated with gays which caused the growth in animosity against them. He raises the critical point that homosexuals generally do not receive sympathy for they have choice to be a gay/lesbian or not whereas in gender, ethnicity and age one has no choice. There is yet another feature highlight by Cockburn (ibid) that in spite of sharing some common organisational experiences, gays and lesbians fall into separate categories as both, unlike heterosexuals, unite with their partners from same gender and are, in effect, hostile to the opposite gender. (Cited in Kirton & Greene 2005)

A growing number of private sector pension schemes are now providing equal benefits for same sex and unmarried partners of pension scheme members. For instance, lesbian and gay workers have equal rights in both the Sainsbury and Somerfield pension schemes; Scot Mid Co-op gives equal access to bereavement leave while Littlewoods ensures that lesbian and gay men are included in their equal opportunities statements. But public sectors are still refusing to implement these changes which might be legally enforced.

However, there is comparatively little empirical data on gay and lesbian rights at workplace because the research has been mainly targeting sex discrimination issues at workplace. The introduction of sexual orientation legislation and the Civil Partnership Act 2005 update drew high attention to the lesbians, gays and bisexual rights in the organisations. The type of discrimination homosexuals face in the workplace can range from being denied access to employment benefits such as special leave, being prevented from progressing at work as a result of ignorance and prejudice and denied equal pension rights. Usdaw, the trade union, represented lesbian and gay members on issues such as sexual harassment, bullying, victimisation, verbal abuse and obscene graffiti in the workplaces. A research by

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