Παρασκευή, 20 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

The Sound of Silence. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Discrimination in ‘Inclusive Organizations


Il suono del silenzio. La discriminazione di lesbiche, gay, bisessuali e transgender nelle “organizzazioni inclusive”.

Abstract

Molti studi sulla diversità e le discriminazioni nei luoghi di lavoro si sono concentrati sulle minoranze visibili come genere o etnia, spesso negando le esperienze di minoranze invisibili, come quelle dei lavoratori lesbiche, gay, bisessuali e transgender (LGBT). In questo articolo vengono esplorate le pratiche di inclusione/esclusione degli LGBT sul posto di lavoro nelle cooperative sociali italiane, che sono nate nello specifico per creare un impiego per persone che sono svantaggiate nel mercato del lavoro. Lo studio esamina come le organizzazioni, che hanno principi fondati sull’inclusione e principalmente impiegano lavoratori appartenenti a specifici gruppi sociali minoritari, gestiscano l’inclusione dei lavoratori LGBT. Viene anche esaminata l’esperienza dei lavoratori LGBT in queste organizzazioni. L’articolo mette in luce che la cultura del silenzio esistente nelle cinque organizzazioni studiate impedisce ai lavoratori LGBT in esse impiegati di costruire un’identità lavorativa che includa la loro identità sessuale e impedisce alle organizzazioni di raggiungere il proprio obiettivo di essere luoghi di lavoro totalmente inclusivi.



Nonostante molti studi sui temi della diversità e dell’inclusione si siano sempre più concentrati sulle pratiche e le politiche tese alla gestione della diversità nei luoghi di lavoro, ancora oggi si osserva come essi si concentrino sulle minoranze visibili, trascurando quelle invisibili, come i lavoratori LGBT. Non solo la sessualità è un’area a cui si presta poca attenzione nella ricerca, ma è anche una delle più difficili da analizzare, in quanto le persone LGBT ricoprono un ruolo attivo nel processo di riconoscimento attraverso il coming out con il ricercatore e i colleghi. La complessità di tale processo può essere ricondotta al fatto che le organizzazioni sono tradizionalmente razionali e asessuate, e in esse ogni riferimento al genere si fonda sullo “eterogender”, inteso come quel processo attraverso il quale il genere oscura l’identità sessuale di uomini e donne, creando un immaginario eterosessuale.
Tutto ciò, in un contesto culturale che vede l’eterosessualità come uno standard prescritto, limita la possibilità dei lavoratori LGBT di costruire la propria identità omosessuale sul luogo di lavoro e di parlarne, portando a una separazione tra identità sessuale e identità lavorativa. Infatti, molti lavoratori omosessuali considerano il coming out come riguardante la sfera privata, non rilevante per la propria vita lavorativa, e come un’azione non professionale; così facendo essi contribuiscono all’indebolimento dell’importanza della sessualità a lavoro. Le discriminazioni verso gli omosessuali e i transgender sono più complesse da definire rispetto ad altre forme di discriminazione, principalmente perché essa si basa su valori morali e religiosi, che appartengono alla cultura nazionale e sono meno soggetti a negoziazione.



 Quindi, in alcune nazioni, l’assenza di protezione legale, la carenza di politiche organizzative che tutelino l’equità e del supporto dei sindacati favoriscono il clima del silenzio. Nello specifico, in Italia, benché l’orientamento sessuale sia incluso nella legislazione sulla discriminazione nei luoghi di lavoro, non esiste nessuna legislazione contro l’omofobia. Le molestie e le aggressioni basate sull’orientamento sessuale non sono considerate nel codice penale.
L’attenzione empirica di questo articolo è incentrata sulle cooperative sociali italiane private, costituitesi nello specifico per la creazione di posti di lavoro per le persone che sono svantaggiate nel mercato del lavoro. Lo studio ha l’obiettivo di approfondire come queste organizzazioni, tentando di supportare il lavoratore e l’inclusione sociale di gruppi minoritari, gestiscono e praticano l’inclusione dei lavoratori LGBT. Un’attenzione particolare sarà rivolta allo studio pratico del concetto teorico di eteronormatività, attraverso l’esplorazione delle pratiche del silenzio in queste organizzazioni. La ricerca fornisce un contributo significativo all’analisi delle pratiche di inclusione organizzativa. L’interesse dello studio è quindi osservare come queste organizzazioni estendono il loro principale obiettivo d’inclusione a una specifica fonte di discriminazione sui luoghi di lavoro come l’omosessualità.



Le cooperative sociali coinvolte nello studio sono quattro: esse forniscono vari servizi nei settori privato e pubblico e in esse sono impiegati dai 15 ai 110 dipendenti. Inizialmente l’avvicinamento alle cooperative si è verificato tramite contatto telefonico del presidente del consorzio regionale; la ricerca è iniziata nel 2011 e i dati sono stati raccolti nel corso di 7 mesi, inizialmente esaminando la documentazione scritta, poi osservando le attività svolte e gli incontri informali, infine somministrando 13 interviste semi-strutturate ai managers più anziani e ai lavoratori LGBT ed effettuando un focus group con 7 supervisori. I temi approfonditi hanno riguardato: la rilevanza dell’orientamento sessuale nelle organizzazioni lavorative; l’esperienza di discriminazione dei lavoratori LGBT, gli effetti del manifestare il proprio orientamento sessuale e le politiche organizzative al riguardo. Il materiale raccolto è stato poi trascritto e analizzato.



Discussione dei risultati.

Nelle organizzazioni studiate non viene data voce alle minoranze sessuali e viene rafforzata la cultura del silenzio. Pratiche discriminatorie, quali silenzio, pettegolezzi e commenti, sono descritti come la normalità e rivelano una cultura eterosessista. Gli intervistati non hanno riconosciuto una personale responsabilità nella creazione di un clima del silenzio: nelle interviste degli eterosessuali è manifestata l’opinione secondo la quale i lavoratori LGBT scelgono di rimanere nel silenzio ed essi ne rispettano la volontà; i lavoratori LGBT intervistati, invece, riportano un atteggiamento discriminatorio delle organizzazioni verso l’omosessualità.
Una realtà inconcepibile
Le parole utilizzate dagli intervistati e dai partecipanti al focus group hanno rivelato non solo una scarsa familiarità con i temi LGBT, ma principalmente l’inconcepibilità della non-eterosessualità. In alcuni casi gli intervistati non conoscono il significato associato ai temi LGBT.
Il silenzio
Molti intervistati inizialmente hanno negato di aver lavorato con colleghi LGBT, ma quando la discussione è proseguita hanno manifestato la propria reticenza, suggerendo che l’orientamento sessuale di questi colleghi è stato scoperto per caso e che la maggior parte non ha parlato apertamente del proprio orientamento sessuale. Il silenzio è spiegato e giustificato come un segno di rispetto e come motivato dall’irrilevanza della sessualità sul luogo di lavoro. Parlare di omosessualità a lavoro è fuori dallo spazio simbolico di molti partecipanti ed è quindi visto come un argomento privato che non deve essere “gridato ai quattro venti”.



 Parlare di orientamento omosessuale sul luogo di lavoro è visto come una scelta personale e l’esistenza del silenzio è considerata una responsabilità degli omosessuali. La logica emergente è che se le persone LGBT scelgono esse in primis il silenzio, conseguentemente i loro colleghi eterosessuali sono forzati a rispettarlo.

Le pratiche del silenzio

In tutte le organizzazioni studiate, i temi LGBT non sono mai affrontati in setting formali, non sono discussi in incontri o sessioni di gruppo che queste organizzazioni regolarmente conducono per supportare l’inclusione lavorativa dei lavoratori svantaggiati. Secondo i lavoratori LGBT, la difficoltà a trattare queste tematiche è dovuta alla paura che alcuni presidenti e supervisori potrebbero avere nell’affrontare questi argomenti che non rientrano nei confini del loro lavoro. La cultura dell’inclusione che tutte queste organizzazioni hanno dichiarato sembra essere imperfetta.

Voci messe a tacere

I due omosessuali che lavorano in queste organizzazioni sostengono di aver scelto di non dichiarare la propria identità sessuale a causa degli atteggiamenti negativi delle loro organizzazioni nei confronti dell’omosessualità. Essi attivamente mantengono la propria vita e identità sessuale separate dalla vita e identità lavorativa. Secondo una partecipante lesbica, i suoi colleghi sono a conoscenza della sua omosessualità e ne parlano tra di loro; lei, comunque non ha mai parlato della sua omosessualità a lavoro, perché preferisce tenere separate vita privata e lavorativa.



La presenza degli studiosi all’interno delle organizzazioni ha favorito la creazione di un dialogo sull’omosessualità nei luoghi di lavoro, generando una nuova consapevolezza al riguardo, nonostante siano state manifestate resistenze nei confronti del cambiamento e persista una dominante eterosessualità. Sarebbe, quindi, auspicabile una sensibilizzazione sul tema dell’eteronormatività del discorso, e a livello nazionale un dibattito critico e riflessivo finalizzato alla costruzione socio-politica della differenza.




Most studies on diversity and discrimination in the workplace have focused on ‘visible’
minorities such as gender or race, often neglecting the experiences of invisible minorities
such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers. In this paper we explore
the practices of inclusion/exclusion of LGBTs in the workplace in Italian social cooperatives,
which are specifically founded to create employment for people who are disadvantaged
in the labour market. The study examines how organizations, which have an
ethos focused on inclusion and mainly employ workers from specific social minority
groups, manage the inclusion of LGBT workers. We also explore the experience of
LGBT workers within these organizations. The paper reports that the culture of silence
existing in the five organizations studied prevents LGBT employees from constructing a
work identity which encompasses their sexual identity and prevents the organizations
from achieving their aim of being fully inclusive workplaces.
Introduction
Research into diversity and inclusion in the workplace
has focused on the further understanding of
processes such as diversity management policies
and practices (e.g. Bell, 2007; Healey et al., 2010;
Konrad, Prasad and Pringle, 2006; Özbilgin,
2009), minority employees’ management of identity
(e.g. Bell and Nkomo, 2003; Bowring and
Brewis, 2009) and employee voice and silence (e.g.
Rank, 2009; Trau, Härtel and Härtel, 2013)
among others. Although such research has more
recently widened its scope, we can still observe
that most studies have focused on ‘visible’ minorities
in the workplace, such as gender or race, and
have neglected researching the experiences of
invisible minorities such as lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender (LGBT1) workers. Not only is
sexuality an under-researched area within diversity
at work but it is also one of the most difficult
to research because LGBT people have to play an
active role in the ‘acknowledgement’ process
through coming out with the researcher and/or
colleagues (Ward and Winstanley, 2005). Such a
process, though, is fraught with complexity due to
the fact that organizations have traditionally been
represented as rational, sexless realms (Hall, 1989;
Martin, 1992), where any reference to gender
The author would like to thank the participants in this
research for their collaboration and honesty.
*A free Video Abstract to accompany this article is
available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10
.1111/(ISSN)1467-8551.
1The expression LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)
is only one of the many terms/acronyms used;
different categories (such as asexual, pansexual and polysexual)
and new acronyms such as QUILTBAG (queer/
questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender,
bisexual, asexual and gay) are emerging. We used the
acronym LGBT because it is widely used and the homosexuals
we talked to defined themselves according to the
categories included here. We consider it important that
research on sexuality embraces the varieties of people’s
sexual orientations.
bs_bs_banner
British Journal of Management, Vol. ••, ••–•• (2013)
DOI: 10.1111/1467-8551.12043
© 2013 British Academy of Management. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4
2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA, 02148, USA.


work is based on ‘heterogender’ (Pringle, 2008)
defined as the process by which gender obscures
the place of sexuality in men and women’s identity
creating a heterosexual imaginary (Ingraham,
2005, in Pringle, 2008). In general, ‘heterogender’
is grounded on heteronormativity, defined as the
expectations, demands and constraints produced
when heterosexuality is taken as normative within
a society and thus when biological gender roles fit
with sexuality.
In the context of culturally accepted norms that
represent heterosexuality as the prescribed standard,
heteronormativity is naturalized through
performances and dominant discourses (Butler,
1997), which ‘act as mechanisms of power and
control, limiting the ability of gay and lesbian
people to construct and talk about their own
homosexual identities at work’ (Reingarde˙, 2010,
p. 85). As Foucault (1976) highlighted, the dominant
heterosexual discourse reproduces unequal
power relationships between the heterosexual
majority and non-heterosexual minority groups,
in that heteronormativity silences minorities and
the act of silencing is an agent of power in its own
right.
In taking for granted the alignment of sex,
gender and sexuality, heteronormativity limits
those people who do not recognize themselves in
the normative model of heterosexuality (Butler,
1990) and therefore leads them to construct separate
‘sexual’ and ‘work’ identities. In fact, as
several studies have highlighted (e.g. Gusmano,
2008, 2010; Reingarde˙, 2010), many homosexual
workers think of coming out as a private matter,
irrelevant to their work life and as an ‘unprofessional’
act (Woods and Lucas, 1993), thus further
contributing to undermine the importance of
sexuality at work.


 Discrimination against homosexual
and transgender people is more difficult to
detect and address than other forms of discrimination
because it is generally based on moral or
religious values, which are embedded in national
cultures and are less susceptible to negotiation
(e.g. Colgan et al., 2007). Furthermore in some
national contexts the absence of legal protection
and the relative lack of organizational equality
policies (particularly in small organizations) and
trade union support exacerbate the climate of
silence. Specifically, in Italy, although sexual orientation
is included in the legislation on employment
discrimination, no legislation exists against
homophobia; harassments and aggressions based
on sexual orientation are not considered in the
penal code.2
The empirical focus of this paper is on privately
owned Italian social cooperatives, specifically
founded to create employment for people who are
disadvantaged in the labour market. The study
aims to investigate how organizations attempting
to support the work and social inclusion of specific
social minority groups manage and practise
the inclusion of LGBT workers. Particular reference
will be placed on investigating in practice the
theoretical concept of heteronormativity through
the exploration of the silencing practices in place
at these organizations. The research provides a
significant contribution to a currently underresearched
area in that it analyses inclusion in the
daily practices of organizational management by
exploring the views and actions of managers and
the perspectives of LGBT employees (the majority
of these worked at managerial level). It does
this in an organizational context which is becoming
important but is still currently underexplored,
namely that of social firms which, in this
specific case, have as their core social aim that of
supporting the social and work integration of disadvantaged
groups.



3 We feel that this specific
setting is of particular interest because such
organizations work ‘against normativity’ employing
socially marginalized people who do not fit
within the normative standards of the ‘typical
worker’, whatever this definition might be. Our
interest is therefore to observe how these organizations
extend their core aim of inclusion to a
specific source of workplace discrimination such
as homosexuality (which is not among the criteria
of disadvantage they explicitly focus on such as
disability, addictions and criminal convictions).
The paper is structured as follows. First we
discuss the theoretical underpinning of the
research, focusing on diversity and sexuality in the
workplace with a specific focus on the organizational
practices that facilitate or inhibit inclusion
and sexual disclosure by LGBT workers. We consider
these debates in the light of a specific social/
national context and the empirical context of
Italian social cooperatives, which we expect to be
2At the time of writing, a new law on homophobia is being
discussed in the Italian Parliament; however, there is no
agreement between different parties and in many cases
within each party, regarding the terms of the legislation.
3A more detailed explanation on these types of organizations
is given in the Research setting section.
more attuned to practices of inclusion. Following
on, the research methodology is outlined before
reporting the analysis of the data emerging from
in-depth individual and group interviews conducted
with managers and with LGBT workers
from five organizations. In addition, observations
of meetings and work activities were also undertaken.
Compulsory heterosexuality:
understanding heteronormativity in
the workplace


The significance of sexual discrimination in the
workplace has been underlined in a growing
number of studies that focus on forms, processes
and experiences of discrimination. Studies exploring
the forms that sexual discrimination takes
within the workplace have often focused on two
different types of discrimination: formal and
informal or interpersonal (Levine and Leonard,
1984; Munoz and Thomas, 2006). While formal
discrimination encompasses exclusion during the
hiring or promotion processes, lack of access and
distribution of resources, interpersonal or informal
discrimination includes verbal and nonverbal
behaviours limiting the respect, credibility
and psychological well-being of sexual minorities.
While there is evidence that formal discrimination
might currently be less common in the western
world (see Colgan et al., 2007, 2008; Giuffrè,
Dellinger and Williams, 2008), particularly due to
legislation,4 social change5 and organization policies,
6 there is also evidence to suggest that heterosexism
and homophobic behaviours, manifested
in informal and subtle acts, are still encountered
by LGBT workers who feel to be treated differently
due to their sexual orientation (Bell et al.,
2011; Buddel, 2011; Silverschanz et al., 2008). As
the transformation towards fully inclusive workplaces
is therefore far from incomplete we feel that
a greater focus on the processes that lead to experiences
of exclusion is needed.
This study’s perspective focuses on understanding
the processes and practices that determine the
reproduction and institutionalization of heterosexuality
in work settings.
 As Hearn and Parkin
(1987) suggested in their pioneering work, heterosexuality
is normalized in organizations through
cultural norms that prevent an open discussion of
gay and lesbian relationships; formal policies
privileging the heterosexual family arrangement;
and workplace interactions and behaviours that
demean homosexuality. Heteronormative work
environments contribute to create a climate of
silence around homosexual topics and can silence
LGBT individuals, forcing them to remain in the
closet for fear of discrimination and isolation
(Ward and Winstanley, 2003).
The climate of silence around ‘peripheral sexualities’
represents a fundamental aspect of the discursive
explosion on and around sex which has
taken place during the last three centuries
(Foucault, 1976). According to Foucault, silence
itself, as the things one declines to say or that are
forbidden, and its functions should become the
object of analysis. Specifically, the purpose of a
Foucauldian analysis is to understand which discourses
are authorized and which are not, which
are the discursive regularities, which are the
archives of all material traces left behind by a
particular historical period and culture. There is
not one silence but many silences; thus social
theorists must try to understand the different
ways of ‘not saying’ certain things, and the dis-
4For example in the UK the 2003 Employment Equality
− Sexual Orientation regulation and the 2010 Equality
Act; in the EU the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 and the
2000/78 Directive against employment discrimination.


5Recent census statistics show a trend towards greater
openness in processes of self-classification. The Istituto
Nazionale di Statistica (2012) reports that 2.4% of the
Italian population identify themselves as homosexual or
bisexual (15.6% refused to answer and 5% have answered
‘other’). In the USA approximately 9 million adults
(approximately 4% of the population) consider themselves
LGBT (Williams Institute, 2011). In the UK the
Office for National Statistics (2010) published a survey
showing that 1.5% of the population categorized itself as
LGB (although 2.8% refused to answer or answered ‘I
don’t know’). Other studies report percentages oscillating
between 5% and 7%, e.g. Erens et al. (2003) suggest
that there are 3.7 million LGB people in the UK.
6Among the top 50 Fortune 500 companies, for example,
48 now include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination
policies and 88% extend domestic partner
benefits, including health insurance, to the same-sex
domestic partners of employees. Companies that have
adopted these policies report that they improve employee
morale and productivity; beyond the business justifications
they also report that LGBT policies are consistent
with their corporate values of fairness and respect and it
is the right thing to have them (Williams Institute, 2011).
tinction between those who can and those who
cannot speak of them. Foucault (1961) highlights
how Modern Age’s will to knowledge about sex is
the expression of power as diffused and embodied
in discourse. Power is everywhere, comes from
everywhere, and is produced by various forms of
constraint. ‘It must be understood [. . .] as the
multiplicity of force relations immanent in the
sphere in which they operate and which constitute
their own organization’ (Foucault, 1976, p. 92).
‘General politics’ and ‘regimes of truth’, resulting
from scientific discourse and institutions (e.g. educational
system, family and work organizations),
are strengthened and/or redefined through several
systems, one of which is the silencing of sexual
minorities.
In progressing from this theoretical articulation
of discourses as ‘general and prevalent systems for
the formation and articulation of ideas in a particular
period of time’ (Alvesson and Karreman,
2000, p. 1126) to the specific conception of discourse
as emergent and locally constructed in
organizational practices (discursive),7 our focus is
on the organizational norms of acceptable conducts
and the privileging of meanings and interpretation
by organizational members. Sexuality in
this perspective is silenced because of its power of
intruding upon and disrupting the ideal functioning
of the organization (Acker, 1990, in Simpson
and Lewis, 2005). Therefore the conceptualization
of voice in organization studies should not be
reduced to a simple act of complaint about perceived
injustices; instead voice and silence are processes
that can maintain or challenge power
relations and can either contribute to the suppression
of marginalized groups’ visibility and their
interests or attempt change (Simpson and Lewis,
2005).


The theoretical concept of heteronormativity is
useful in helping to identify the silencing processes
through which individuals who do not appear to
‘fit’ or refuse to ‘fit’ within the sex/gender boundaries
are made invisible and silenced. Heteronormative
assumptions and practices regulate the
beliefs, behaviours and desires of all, homosexual
and heterosexual, in that they restrict the range of
possibilities of identification and expression for
everyone (Afshar, 2004). Practices of regulation
and restriction are integral to creating and maintaining
hierarchies of power, which in turn limit
the kinds of talks, interactions and performances
in the workplace. Therefore the issue of silence
goes beyond LGBT issues in that it also concerns
how assumptions about heterosexuality, often
held unconsciously, are rendered invisible.
Heteronormative organizations and practices
block access to full participation to the workplace
and undermine the development of an individual’s
work identity which fully encompasses his/her
sexual identity. The demarcation between one’s
sexual identity and her/his work and professional
identity, and the subsequent denial of one to the
other, has been assimilated to inhabiting two
worlds (Humphrey, 1999). Some LGBTs, in fact,
create a façade of conformity with colleagues
and managers often constructing a heterosexual
partner and a heterosexual life (Özbilgin and
Woodward, 2003; Ward and Winstanley, 2003),
suppressing the sense of who they are.
With limited research on more inclusive organizations,
we questioned whether there might be
more opportunities for LGBTs to self-identify
within those organizations recognized for their
commitment to integration and inclusion. We
have therefore chosen to base this research on
social cooperatives, with the aim of investigating
whether and how the inclusion practices and
support mechanisms they have in place to help the
integration of specific disadvantaged groups are
negotiated during formal and informal interactions
to support the inclusion of LGBT workers
and the engagement with their needs. In the next
section we consider in detail the research context
and explore the characteristics of this type of
social firm.
The research setting: the Italian
diversity management context and
the sector of social cooperatives
Whereas much has been written on diversity management
by US and Anglo-Saxon scholars, little is
known about diversity management practices in
7Alvesson and Karreman (2000) distinguish between Discourse
with a capital D, referring to a Foucaldian’s
approach to discourse as a macro, general and prevalent
system, and discourse with a small d as the micro, situated
system of meanings existing within a specific setting
or context. While a Foucaldian analysis focuses generally
on the macro level, Fairclough (2005) suggests that social
research should aim at achieving an analysis focused on
the macro as well as the micro levels, even when this leads
to a compromise in terms of research rigour other national contexts..



 With reference to the Italian context, specific ‘regularities’ (Foucault,
1969) emerge in the discourses concerning sexual
minorities and what can or cannot be said. Italian
legislation, for example, has traditionally been
silent on issues of sexual orientation; only subsequently
to significant social pressures has the EU
Directive (2000/78) against employment discrimination
based on sexual orientation been transposed
into Italian law (initially in 20038 and then
amended in 2008). The legislation, though, allows
the possibility of differential treatment if the stated
characteristics ‘affect the performance of work or
constitute decisive requisites for its carrying out’,
still thus constructing homosexuality as a potential
force for disrupting work functioning.
Furthermore, in relation to diversity management
efforts in Italy, gender and disability, and
more recently ethnicity, have been given precedence
over sexual orientation,9 which is widely
viewed as a personal rather than a social matter.
While the country has a tradition of equal treatment
formalized by the equality principles contained
in the Italian Constitution of 1947, the
concept of diversity management is still in its
infancy and is mainly viewed as a mechanism to
‘protect’ a category considered to be weaker than,
and ‘different from’, a hegemonic model, rather
than recognizing the ‘diversity’ of single individuals
(Murgia and Poggio, 2010, p. 171). Further
evidence of these social ‘archives’ is provided by
several studies concerning the experiences of
LGBT workers in Italy (e.g. Barbagli and
Colombo, 2007; Bertone et al., 2003; D’Ippoliti
and Schuster, 2011; Istituto Nazionale di
Statistica, 2011; Lelleri, Pozzoli and Berardi,
2011), which show a strong tendency by homosexuals
to stay in the closet at work due to serious
risks of discrimination, particularly informal
discrimination.
Within such social and historical context, which
silences ‘a personal choice’ while supporting the
development of systems aimed at protecting
certain ‘weaker’ social groups, it is worthwhile
highlighting the normalization, in legal terms, of
new forms of organizations, namely social firms,
aimed directly at stimulating workplace inclusion
of disadvantaged individuals and groups. While
Italy has been at the forefront of social entrepreneurship,
in 1991 social firms were formally regulated
to offer public sector support to those
private firms involved in social inclusion (Borzaga
and Tortia, 2009). This has determined a significant
growth of social firms in the country. The
legislation ratifies the existence of a specific form
of social firm aimed at the creation of social inclusion
through employment for certain disadvantaged
groups, namely physically or mentally
disabled, present or former psychiatric patients,
drug addicts, alcoholics and criminal offenders.
The perspective of the legislators and government
policy makers is founded on the view that,
through employment, individuals who are marginalized
in society will gain a form of human
dignity and, with the right guidance and support,
such work inclusion will subsequently facilitate
their social inclusion.


Social cooperatives are the most widespread
form of social firm in Italy;10 they are generally
small in size and operate at regional level. A significant
factor in the growth of social cooperatives
has been the linkage to local government’s services
which in effect are the cooperatives’ main
customers. By taking on such services social cooperatives
have filled the gap left by cuts to the
provision of social welfare created by financial
constraints and the increase in the demand of
public goods and services (Borzaga and Tortia,
2009).
With reference to the specific organizations
studied, analysis of the company documents and
informal conversations and observations have
highlighted that the perspective to social inclusion
taken by these organizations reflects that of policy
makers. Social exclusion is addressed first and
foremost by providing employment to disadvantaged
individuals, and then by actively supporting
their journey towards full work and social inclusion.
The process of work inclusion is seen as a
collaborative, organization-wide effort which
exists alongside a person-directed and individualized
form of workplace counselling. The focus is
on helping individuals to develop their capacity to
8With the Legislative Decree no. 216 of 9 July 2003.
9For example, positive action has been embedded in
gender equality legislation since 1991 and in June 2011
Italy introduced quotas for women on company boards,
requiring the boards of listed companies to comprise 20%
women by 2012 and 33% by 2015.
10In 2005 they numbered 7363, employing approximately
260,000 paid workers and 31,000 volunteers and achieving
a turnover of €7 billion (Istituto Nazionale di
Statistica, 2007).be successful and satisfied in their working and
social environments. Discussions and participant
observations of the workplace revealed the existence
of formal processes aimed at supporting the
inclusion of disadvantaged workers. Monthly
formal group sessions are conducted by the rehabilitation
manager with the objective of developing
self-awareness and self-analysis and to reflect
on the importance of workplace relations and
organizational processes. They support individuals
in understanding their difficulties and, more
generally, in dealing with work and social struggles.
Alongside these group sessions, disadvantaged
workers are provided with individual
counselling sessions generally offered by the
on-site psychologist, who draws up an individualized
project that considers relational and
work objectives. The rehabilitation manager is
employed by the consortium and works closely
with the director and the deputy director of each
of the four cooperatives in providing executive
leadership, however formally she focuses on the
‘social’ (or rehabilitative) aspect of the enterprise.
In addition to the executive team the organizational
structure includes supervisors or middle
managers who work closely with teams of
workers.
Research methodology
This research explores processes and practices of
LGBT diversity and inclusion at four different
Italian social cooperatives, all part of a regional
consortium. The cooperatives provide a range of
services (see Table 1) to private and public sector
companies and employ between 15 and 110
people. We initially made contact with the president
of the regional consortium (which acts as an
umbrella organization and consists of a board of
seven members) who facilitated the contact with
four cooperatives. The research took place in 2011
and the data collection phase lasted for approximately
7 months in which time we initially examined
the companies’ documentation; one of the
authors observed work activities and meetings
and informally talked to workers at various levels.
Subsequently, having developed a clear idea on
the approach to inclusion taken by the organizations,
we conducted 13 semi-structured in-depth
interviews with senior managers and LGBT
workers and one focus group with seven supervisors.
Specifically we interviewed all executive
directors (they use the title of president) and all
deputy directors of the four cooperatives, the
president of the regional consortium and the rehabilitation
manager. During the interviews with the
senior managers, two of them declared their
homosexuality to us (both are closeted in their
organization) and agreed to be interviewed at a
later stage in their role as LGBT workers. In addition
we interviewed a transgender employee. We
had great difficulties in accessing more LGBT
workers even though we made formal and informal
approaches. We also had difficulty in conducting
more focus groups with supervisors and
workers; on several occasions, having finalized the
arrangements, those who had agreed to participate
either did not attend or cancelled at the last
minute.



During the interviews we asked participants to
reflect on the relevance of sexual orientation in
work organizations, to discuss the experiences of
discrimination of LGBT employees, to share their
views on the meaning of fully inclusive workplaces,
and to reflect on the benefits of taking into
Table 1. Overview of the participant organizations
Cooperatives Activity sector Number of
employees
Typology of disadvantages with
percentage compared with
non-disadvantaged employees
Cooperative Acacia Upkeep of public parks and public and private spaces 110 Drug addicts; psychiatric patients;
convicts (67%)
Cooperative Melissa Cleaning services to local government buildings; provision
of staff canteens to various organizations
38 Psychiatric patients; under-age
convicts (35%)
Cooperative Hibiscus Logistics, carriers and various technical services to various
companies and banks (data entry, customer service)
20 Psychiatric patients (43%)
Cooperative Magnolia Cleaning services to local government buildings; upkeep
of public and private places; concierge service
15 Drug addicts; psychiatric patients;
convicts; disabled (33%)
This table excludes the consortium. account sexual orientation in work practices and
organizational policies. The interviews and the
focus group’s duration varied between 1 and 2
hours. They were transcribed verbatim and all the
authors independently examined the transcripts
for emerging themes. The epistemological premises
of this study reside within critical discourse
analysis (CDA) (Chouliaraki and Fairclough,
2010; Fairclough, 1995, 2001, 2003, 2005) and we
have followed Fairclough’s (2001) CDA five
stages in addressing the research problem. First,
CDA focuses on a social problem (e.g. sexual discrimination
at work), thus on illuminating the
problem that a particular social group is confronted
with by forms of social life which generate
subjugation or discrimination. In this sense CDA
based research has an emancipatory agenda.
Second, research explores what obstacles prevent
the solution of the problem, specifically how the
structure and organization of social life resists
change. While this stage focuses on exploring
‘orders of discourse’ (which is the Discourse at
macro level − see footnote 7) it also investigates
the ways of using language in interaction (micro
level).11 Third, in considering the necessity of the
problem for maintaining the social order, the
focus is on the ideological aspect of discourse as
contributing to sustaining particular relations of
power and domination. The fourth stage of the
analysis focuses on the contradictions or failures
within the dominant order and might highlight
possibilities for change. Finally, the researcher
should reflect on whether and how the critique
can contribute to social emancipation.


Our analysis thus explores how heteronormativity
as order of discourse is represented in the
spoken language and the discursive and sociocultural
practices as reproduced during the interviews.
In operationalizing the analysis, initially
the authors independently read the transcripts
and categorized the texts into the main themes
emerging from the data and entered them in a list
with illustrative key quotes. Working together the
authors agreed on the themes’ denomination and
the most illustrative quotes, in an effort to show
the different perspectives emerging from the different
individuals. Subsequently the authors
focused on specific discourses as particular ways
of representing aspects of the organizational
world. The discourse of silence, explored in this
study, has emerged in several facets and here we
have chosen to explore it in general terms and
with reference to the specific silencing practices in
action at these organizations. We also wanted to
give voice to the silenced individuals who have
spoken to us and therefore the second part of the
analysis presents the experience of three LGBT
employees. The analysis that follows focuses
on the individual and group interviews. The
company documents and the participant observations
were mainly used to develop an understanding
of the work and social setting and the specific
approach to inclusion and rehabilitation used at
the participant organizations. Thus, they have
specifically informed the previous section and
have indirectly favoured our understanding of the
interview data.
Data analysis and discussion: managing
LGBT issues in social cooperatives
Before presenting the analysis on silence, on the
specific practices of silence and on the silenced
voices, the session that follows provides an
empirical introduction to the social context within
which LGBTs (those who have spoken to us and
those who have not) work.


An inconceivable reality
The words used by interviewees and focus group
participants, and the empty spaces in-between
them, revealed not only the low familiarity with
LGBT topics but mainly the inconceivability of
the non-heterosexual. Participants show uneasiness
with LGBT issues and when mentioning specific
homosexual individuals with whom they
have worked. Many recur to periphrasis avoiding
specific terminology (e.g. a senior manager refers
to a bisexual woman as ‘she was both of them’).
Euphemisms are used as substitute for explicit
expressions, which might be considered embarrassing.
In some cases interviewees do not know
the meaning of words associated with LGBT
topics: an example of this is the discussion about
the meaning of words like transsexual or the
acronym LGBT; they also wonder about the
11The method of analysis itself and the level of depth of
the linguistic analysis vary and depend on the expertise in
linguistics of the researcher and the objectives of the
research.pertinence of labelling lesbians as homosexuals
(since in Italian the prefix ‘omo’ in ‘omosessuale’
appears to refer to ‘uomo’ (man), some think that
homosexual is right only for homosexual men).
This discursive silence highlights the power of heteronormativity
in masking that which does not
conform and in naturalizing that which does.
The sections that follow explore the various
ways in which LGBT issues are perceived, experienced
and managed at the organizations studied.
The dominant heteronormative culture of these
organizations determines a culture of silence
around LGBT topics; silence is thus explored in
its several features. This is followed by an analysis
of the ways in which sexual orientation is silenced
(silencing practices) and how LGBTs respond to
such practices (silenced voices).


Silence
Most interviewees initially denied having worked
with LGBT colleagues, but as talks progressed
they explained their reticence by suggesting that
the sexual orientation of these colleagues was discovered
by chance and that most have never
spoken directly about their sexual orientation.
Silence is explained and justified as a sign of
respect and as motivated by the irrelevance of
sexuality in the workplace:
Roberto: Why should I be interested that he is
married to a man? He went to get married in France
. . . or in Spain . . . and then? Why should I be
interested? I’m married to my wife and I don’t worry
about what others think; therefore I cannot understand
why he should be worried about what I think
. . . he went to Spain to get married with a handsome
guy, and then? I got married to a woman . . .
Such view constructs equality as the lack of difference,
while denying the different conditions
that homosexual people live in in both social and
organizational contexts. Discrimination and different
opportunities for LGBT people, including
the impossibility of legally formalizing their relationships
in their own country or qualifying for
employment benefits, are minimized.12 As Martin
(1992) noticed, just as men work with men and
come to believe that they work in a gender-neutral
world rather than one where men dominate, heterosexuals
also come to believe that they work in
a sexually neutral world rather than one in which
heterosexuals dominate (see also Pringle, 2008).
While denying difference represents a rhetorical
strategy to remove a problematic phenomenon, it
also acts as a silencing mechanism for LGBT
employees. Workplace discussion of homosexuality
is out of the symbolic space of most participants
and thus is viewed as a private matter that
‘should not be shouted from the rooftops’
(Roberto, supervisor). Talking about homosexual
orientation in the workplace is viewed as a personal
choice and the existing silence is attributed
to the homosexuals’ responsibility. The logic
emerging is that, if LGBT people choose to
‘silence themselves’, consequently their heterosexual
colleagues are ‘forced’ to respect their will.


The isolation of sexuality from one’s public and
work life highlights the power of the dominant
heterocentric culture which limits the possibility
of alternative discourses and makes minorities
invisible (Foucault, 1976; Reingarde˙, 2010).
These organizations are viewed by members as
characterized by openness, trust and a high level
of employee support; most participants suggest
that everyone can express their diversity and that
inclusion is part of their ethos. While this view is
supported by the existence of safe spaces within
the organizations (e.g. group sessions and individual
support meetings) where people can
express their needs and weaknesses without being
judged, there is no formal or informal evidence to
show that LGBT workers receive encouragement
to talk about their sexuality, including the total
absence of anti-discrimination policies. As
research shows (e.g. Clair, Beatty and MacLean,
2005), LGBT workers are more likely to reveal
their sexual orientation in the presence of concrete
supporting measures and positive treatment of
others who have revealed their sexual identity. In
our interviewees’ opinion, colleagues or policies
can do little if homosexuals do not accept themselves
and ‘choose’ to remain silent. Such assumptions
show the lack of awareness of the
heteronormative views held within the organization
and the damaging effects of discriminatory
behaviours such as irony, jokes and gossip which
create a negative and unsafe space for coming out
(Reingarde˙, 2010). As highlighted in other studies
(e.g. Buddel, 2011), this can also have a negative
impact on psychological well-being (Silverschanz
12It is worth noting that Italy does not legally recognize
any type of same-sex union.
et al., 2008), work productivity and satisfaction
(Bell et al., 2011) and, in these cases, can affect the
work integration of disadvantaged workers.


Fabrizia: Sure . . . he should be the first to talk about
it if he wants to . . .
[. . .]
Fabrizia: Sexuality isn’t a matter of discussion at
work.
[. . .]
Adamo: Well, it’s not a matter of getting the message
across [that cooperatives accept LGBT persons]; in
my opinion the problem is that these persons [referring
to LGBTs] are impressively closed.
The lack of empathy towards LGBT colleagues
strongly emerged throughout the focus group and
the interviews with all managers, who, astoundingly,
are generally professional experts in rehabilitation
and social inclusion. Internalized
homophobia is the result of living in a heterosexist
environment that degrades non-heterosexuals (see
also Rostosky and Riggle, 2002). Indeed, the disclosure
of one’s sexual orientation would be safer
in a context that does not define identities in a
restricted way and does not stigmatize those who
are ‘non-heterosexual’. Since heterosexuality represents
the norm in society, those who are not
heterosexual have exceptional social and personal
challenges that influence their identity development
and socialization processes (Rostosky and
Riggle, 2002); it is therefore the encouragement
that they receive within the work environment
that can make the difference.
It appeared that, as each interview progressed,
participants were more engaged in the topic and
themselves further analysed their organizational
silence by taking into account mutual interactions
and influences and admitting that silence is a
vicious cycle on the basis of which the responsibility
is attributed to the other part. Only positive
interactions could break the cycle of silence sustaining
a process of transformation. Emanuela
(senior manager), below, shows awareness of this
possibility when she recognizes that their closure
may have caused a colleague to remain in the
closet and wonders whether the demonstration of
greater sensitivity on their part would have
resulted in more openness and trust on the part of
the lesbian colleague.


Emanuela: In our organization there wasn’t only
silence . . . because she used to talk a lot about her
girlfriend; however, she spoke of the problems that
they had as friends, not as lovers; she talked about
their friendship, not their affair or their relationship
as a couple. She didn’t speak . . . she didn’t speak
about it . . . so . . . hmm. . . . I don’t know . . . maybe
if she felt that we were ready she would have spoken
about it . . . I don’t know. . . .
Silencing practices
At all organizations studied, LGBT topics are
never addressed in formal settings; they are not
discussed in meetings or in the group sessions
that these organizations regularly conduct to
support the work inclusion of the disadvantaged
workers. This silence represents an anomaly considering
that, within these sessions, discussions
focus on the private as well as the working lives
of those involved, as became evident when we
observed several of them. The rehabilitation
manager, who conducts these groups, confirms
that she is aware of the presence of some homosexual
workers, but she has never addressed
LGBT issues during the group work. In her
opinion, the difficulty in addressing these issues
is due to the fear that some presidents and supervisors
would then have to deal with issues that
are not within the boundaries of their work. The
culture of inclusion, which all these organizations
have declared, appears to be flawed.
Within a culture of inclusion the ‘different voices
of a diverse workforce are respected and heard’
(Pless and Maak, 2004, p. 131); in these organizations
inclusion seems to focus only on very
specific characteristics.
In the following excerpt Ottavio, a supervisor,
tells the experience of a gay man who spoke to
him about his sexual orientation. Ottavio
advised him to respect the organization’s rules in
order to avoid problems and subsequently
ignored this aspect of the worker’s identity.
Inclusion for this manager is consistent with the
lack of formal discrimination rather than as the
recognition and valuing of being different (Pless
and Maak, 2004).

Ottavio: . . . I do have regular one to one meetings,
particularly with new starters, then this person . . .
after a while with us, told me that he was homo-
The Sound of Silence 9
© 2013 British Academy of Management.
sexual, and that he was, even, living with a person; I
said ‘even’ because I didn’t ask him anything . . .
[. . .]
Ottavio: We took cognizance of this, . . . we have
internal rules that we ask employees to undersign
[. . .] I told him that there was no exclusion, that he
could work comfortably and be at ease here, that
obeying the rules, as everyone else, would be enough
[. . .]
Interviewer: Did this person come out with his
colleagues?
Ottavio: Yes, then he came out with the colleagues
[laughing]; it was a funny situation. I’m laughing
because he was also a likeable person, a bit
crazy. . . . Someone distanced himself from him,
while others on the contrary [. . .]
Interviewer: So, everyone knew it, it was clear, but
this area was put aside . . .
Ottavio: Probably because, in my opinion, no one
felt the need to talk about it. . . . Because in some
cases there is a sort of . . . not respect but . . . of . . .
I’ll say it frankly: in some places people mind their
own business . . . some matters could be embarrassing
for somebody and not for someone else . . . for
me it isn’t embarrassing, but for someone it could be
embarrassing, so one avoids . . .
Although Ottavio knows that someone distanced
himself from the homosexual colleague and
someone else ‘turned up his nose’, nothing was
done to facilitate the integration and inclusion of
this worker. Reactions of rejection are minimized
as ‘nothing happened’, admitting that sexual orientation
topics can be embarrassing. Ottavio constructs
his silence as a form of ‘inverted’ pro-social
silence in which the information is withheld and
not discussed generally to protect theLGBTfriend
(Van Dyne, Ang and Botero, 2003). In this case,
though, rather than feeling the need to protect the
gay subordinate, Ottavio feels obliged to protect
those other colleagues who may be embarrassed
by homosexual relationships. The organization’s
response to this specific case makes it more difficult
for sexual minorities to construct an ‘ “out” social
identity’ (Reingarde˙, 2010, p. 90). Homosexuals
are expected to stay in the closet and talking about
sexuality is intrusive. Similarly to other studies
(e.g. Ward and Winstanley, 2005), interviewees do
not want homosexuality to be ‘flaunted in front of
them’: they can accept homosexual people as long
as they do not remind them that they are homosexuals.
A few other managers admitted to witnessing
the difficulties that some of their LGBT colleagues
were experiencing and realized how these
were impacting on their work. One director, for
instance, talks about a very problematic relationship
between two female colleagues, and how the
organization neglected the colleagues’ difficulties
despite the social cooperative’s mission and objectives.
She justifies the organizational silence as
respect and lack of intrusiveness.


Emanuela: As a cooperative we didn’t do anything,
really anything. They were all the time together,
they were cohabiting, and then they broke up, and
then together again . . . I mean, we witnessed several
awful episodes. . . . Because the other girl . . . fell
back into her past mistakes which I thought she had
left behind her, but . . . she went back to her old
ways; indeed she is now in rehab.
As evidenced by the extract, this relationship is
constructed as ‘wrong’ not only according to heteronormative
prejudice but because the two
women belonged to different social groups and
different employee groups (one of them was a
‘disadvantaged’ worker), evoking the double
origin of these women’s sense of exclusion. The
intersectional analysis (Tatli and Özbilgin, 2012)
of these two categories helps us to understand the
power behind the culture of silence in that it
exposes the process behind which people hide
judgement about homosexuality, making it more
acceptable to disapprove publicly of relationships
among individuals from different social groups
rather than individuals from the same sex.
When homosexuality is ‘disclosed’ or ‘discovered’
‘nothing changes and everything goes on as
normal’. However, contradictions soon emerged
when participants reported the comments, mostly
derogatory, that took place in the organizations
in relation to individuals who came out or were
outed.
Interviewer: In your opinion, was this person ever
discriminated against?
Giulia: I don’t think so . . . not in our organization,
not at all. I don’t know if she was discriminated in
other contexts [. . .]
Interviewer: Can you tell me what happened at the
beginning?

Giulia: At the beginning, when the affair [between
lesbians] was discovered, people gossiped a bit,
obviously they gossiped, saying: ‘that’s disgusting
. . ., and this and that, she’s married, she has three
children, and she got herself with . . .’, in short,
usual discourses that people do. Then, slowly . . .
people stopped talking about it, I think it stopped
anyway. [. . .] Maybe there are many taboos that we
aren’t ready to accept . . . everyone is able to speak
[about equality or tolerance], but when something
concerns us more directly, we’re a bit . . . we have
taboos . . .
Referring to the same relationship as the previous
quote, Giulia (senior manager) reveals the
use of gossip as the strategy used by organizational
members to break the silence. Gossip is
constructed as ‘obvious’ and as a ‘usual’ aspect
of organizational life. In recognizing the existence
of taboos and the reluctance to accept
‘certain things’, she does not concede that gossip
and disparaging comments are a practice of discrimination.


‘Amusing remarks and mockeries’
are aspects of organizational life and part of the
status quo, and are viewed as unchallengeable
and unchangeable by many interviewees. The
use of gossip and sarcasm is a way for
re-constituting and re-naturalizing heteronormativity
(Butler, 1997) through the repositioning of
what is standard in the context of culturally
accepted norms and what is outside of the conventional
realms.
When asked about how they would address a
formalized case of sexual discrimination, managers’
answers varied and display the absence of
organizational policies and a planned strategy
(also evident by the examination of company
documents). The rehabilitation manager declares
that she would deal with the hypothetical case of
discrimination during group sessions; several
other participants would deal with the matter in
an informal manner by talking with the perpetrators
of discriminatory behaviour. Giulia, for
instance, says that ‘she would tell them off’ and
she would recommend her team to have a
‘normal behaviour’. Piero, on the contrary,
during the focus group suggests that managers
or supervisors should not intervene because ‘a
person can’t live under a glass jar [. . .] society is
like this, and one needs to have guts, if you
protect him, he would never develop guts’. All
answers mirrored the view widely held in Italy
that homosexuality is a personal matter rather
than a matter which affects society, institutions
or organizations.
Silenced voices
The two homosexual employees suggest that they
have chosen to remain closeted due to their
organizations’ negative attitudes toward homosexuality.
While they do not use deliberate
actions to pass as heterosexual (see also Ward
and Winstanley, 2003), they actively maintain
their sexual life and sexual identity separate from
their work life and work identity.
 In the opinion
of the lesbian, her colleagues know that she is
homosexual and they gossip about it; however,
she has never talked about her homosexuality at
work because she prefers to keep her private life
separate from work (see also Gusmano, 2008;
Reingarde˙, 2010) and does not view her colleagues
as open-minded. Recognizing that this
split between her sexual identity and her workplace
identity affects her emotional well-being,
Sara has created a small space within which to
preserve some ‘authenticity’ and thus openly
talks about her private life with the few colleagues
with whom she has a friendship. The heteronormative
work cultures can lead homosexual
workers to keep a distinction between public and
private, and between professional relations and
intimate workplace friendship (Rumens, 2008).
Sara is a senior manager and recognizes that she
is partly guilty for the organizational climate of
silence because she has never done anything to
change the situation.
Sara: In my case, I’ve never thought to disclose my
homosexuality because on several occasions, and at
different levels, I felt really as if there were walls,
judgements, so it wasn’t easy for me. I must point
out that I’m a very discrete person, I mean, I prefer
to stay in my role, and this has always been my
choice . . . I have a different relationship with some
people, a closer relationship, so I don’t have any
problem to talk with them about my sexual orientation.
[. . .] The conditions for being open have
never existed, but, I’ve never gone beyond my role,
though I never talked with them about it, I think
they know.



Interviewer: How do you think visibility could be
encouraged in workplaces? Would it be beneficial in
your opinion?

Sara: Yes, it would, really, it would be very beneficial.
I mean [. . .] in a workplace if a person leaves
out a part of his/her history, of his/her life, this is not
something easy to manage from an emotional point
of view and also affects his/her professional fulfilment.
[. . .] If personally I’d have done something to
create a different context, probably now I would feel
more serene. I don’t think that it is only the responsibility
of those who don’t accept or don’t speak, but
I, myself, have done nothing to change this
situation.
Similarly to Sara, Luca, a gay senior manager,
tells that he has never talked about his sexual
orientation because of the heterosexist culture of
the cooperatives and, since he thinks that his colleagues
view homosexuality as a diversion from
normality, he is afraid that revealing his sexual
orientation could have negative effects on his
authority.
Luca: I’ve never talked about my homosexuality
because I’m in a totally masculine and heterosexist
context . . . where homosexuality is considered . . .
how can I say . . . is despised. I think that they have
the idea that homosexuality is a misdeed. . . . I’m
their role model, and I think that if they know that
I’m gay they could use this trait of mine as an excuse
for not following my lead or the example that I
represent for them. I’m afraid to lose my authority.
I am in a context where one of the main tools is the
example that we represent for them and since I think
that they view homosexuality as a diversion from
normality, they would perceive me in a negative
way. In my opinion, all of them have the same idea,
not only the workers, but even middle and senior
managers . . . well, except some of them.
In representing his organization as masculine,
Luca equals masculine to male and to leadership;
in disclosing his homosexuality he feels that he
would lose his masculine credentials which, as a
consequence, would undermine his leadership. In
choosing to disclose their sexuality only to a few
individuals they trust, both Sara and Luca cleave
the workplace into two environments based on
the type of relationship they have with colleagues.
While this strategy might allow them some
space for personal authenticity, it does not posit a
direct challenge to the heteronormative order
(Gusmano, 2010) and contributes to maintaining
the status quo.

The transgender employee positions herself differently;
she admits that she has never talked with
her colleagues about her sexual identity, but she
has tried to introduce the topic lightly with humorous
references. Although she thinks that her colleagues
have understood she is transgender she
perceives that they would rather avoid the topic of
her sexuality, missing the opportunity to embed
sexual diversity within the organizational discourses.
In Chiara’s opinion, talking frankly could
be useful for challenging stereotypes and prejudices
(see also Humphrey, 1999) about transgender
identity, but the hegemonic heterosexual culture
precludes the possibility of an open discussion.
Chiara started work at the organization during
our data collection and her employment at the
cooperative Magnolia raised the issue of bringing
LGBT topics into the open. Indeed, the transgender
person further highlights the differences
between the straight world and the LGBT one;
she forces all to deal with the importance of sexuality
in work and organizations in a way that gays
and lesbians cannot do because they are invisible.


Conclusions
The organizations studied have in place several
formal systems which give voice to the disadvantaged
groups of workers. While such formal practices
are focused on disadvantage, they could also
represent mechanisms which give voice to workers
who might experience discrimination in other
ways. However, what appears to be lacking is the
explicit commitment of management to LGBT
issues, which currently supports the culture of
silence existing in all social firms investigated.
Sexual orientation equality has never been openly
integrated in management efforts and has never
been proactively considered as an issue to be discussed
at the organizational level, even in those
cases where sexuality was evidently part of someone’s
disadvantage (as in the case of the transgender
employee). In spite of the cooperatives’ ethos
of inclusion, discriminatory practices such as
silence, gossip and derogatory comments are
common and described as normal, revealing a
deeply rooted heterosexist culture. The solution to
this ambiguity is the denial of both the importance
of sexual orientation in the workplace and
the discrimination that LGBT employees are subjected
to.
These organizations are constructed as sexually
neutral worlds (Martin, 1992) where silencing
mechanisms of non-heterosexual employees are
strongly present but not recognized. Alternative
discourses about sexual orientation are limited by
the separation between private and public life that
contributes to making sexual minorities invisible
(Foucault, 1976). The difficulties we had in
involving more LGBT workers are a further confirmation
of this. The majority of interviewees do
not recognize a personal responsibility for the
climate of silence: in the heterosexuals’ opinions
LGBT workers choose to stay in the closet forcing
the straight part to respect their will. Conversely,
LGBTs report the organizations’ negative attitude
toward homosexuality. The discourses of
heterosexism and heterocentrism embedded in
these organization’s cultures prohibit any openness
allowing the possibilities of constructing a
reality within which LGBTs can discuss their
sexual identity.



We feel that our presence in the organization
has played a role in nurturing a possibility for
homosexuality to become part of the organizational
discourses. The process of questioning by
the interviewer has not only promoted the
co-creation of homosexuality as a possibility of
discourse and generated new awareness, it has
also determined a feeling of regret and the appreciation
of the missed opportunities in inclusion
practices. While on one level such reflection by
organizational members may be constructed as an
emancipatory outcome, on the other, resistance to
change was also evident in the articulation of
several difficulties, such as lack of cultural readiness
and practical logistics which participants
constructed as insuperable. Furthermore the difficulty
in moving from the level of possibility to
the level of actualization is also exemplified by
Chiara’s experience. During the first interview
with the directors of the cooperative Magnolia
they expressed the intention to openly address
homosexuality in the workplace in the light of
Chiara’s imminent employment; however, a few
months after Chiara’s induction, during the
follow-up interview, it emerged that this initial
intention had not been acted upon. Despite the
fact that Chiara makes diversity visible, the
organization is not yet planning specific strategies
or interventions to manage sexual diversity. As
the rehabilitation manager asserted, ‘they will
wait to see what happens with time’.
Previous research has shown examples of
workplace practices which support culture
change such as the existence of a workplace
policy (Clair, Beatty and MacLean, 2005); the
establishment of an LGBT group; the presence
of visible senior LGBT staff (Colgan et al.,
2007); the extent to which homophobia is proactively
challenged at work (Rostosky and Riggle,
2002); and the existence of voice mechanisms for
employees in the ‘articulation of individual dissatisfaction’
and the ‘contribution to decision
making’ (see Bell et al., 2011, p. 140). Such practices,
often studied in the context of large organizations,
may not necessarily be implementable in
specific organizations such as those which are
small in size and have specific structure and
social aims. In the social firms studied informal
and ad hoc practices and systems of communication
prevail over formal systems and policies,
and discriminatory practices are concealed by
silencing strategies that maintain a dominant
heterosexual discourse with a rhetoric of an
‘inclusive and safe space’.


It would be desirable, on one level, to sensitize
organizational members (heterosexual and not) to
focus on the limits deriving from heteronormative
discourses (Gusmano, 2008). On a national level,
a critical and reflexive debate aimed at the construction
of difference in a socio-political manner
could influence social practice as well as legislation
against homophobia (Lorbiecki and Jack,
2000). This would support a mainstreaming,
rather than an isolationist approach, and give
sound to the silence.
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Vincenza Priola, Diego Lasio,1 Silvia De Simone1 and Francesco Serri1
Aston Business School, Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK, and 1Department of
Pedagogy, Psychology, Philosophy, University of Cagliari, via Is Mirrionis 1, 09123 Cagliari, Italy
Corresponding author mail: C.Priola@aston.ac.uk

Vincenza Priola is a lecturer in organization studies at Aston University (Aston Business School in the
UK). Her research interests focus mainly around issues of employee and managerial identities,
gender, sexuality and diversity in the workplace and how the concepts of brand and branding are
experienced within organizations.
Diego Lasio is a senior researcher in social psychology and teaches psychology of family relations at
the University of Cagliari (Faculty of Human Sciences in Italy). His research interests include
sexuality and heteronormativity in society and work and gender and non-traditional families.
Silvia De Simone is a senior researcher in work and organizational psychology and teaches human
resource management (HRM) at the University of Cagliari (Faculty of Human Sciences in Italy). Her
research interests focus on gender in society and at work and HRM. She is the coordinator of the
masters in HRM at Cagliari University.
Francesco Serri is a senior researcher in social psychology and teaches psychology of groups at the
University of Cagliari (Faculty of Human Sciences in Italy). His work focuses on themes around
identity, gender and social disadvantage. He has experience of work in social cooperatives as the
founder of a cooperative as well as a researcher on social enterprise.


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