What Are the Perceptions and Attitudes of Business Communication Students towards Gays and Lesbians in the Workplace?

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INTRODUCTION

In preparing future employees for work in business, many business communication courses discuss corporate cultures. Many business communication authors have stressed in order for students to be successful in today's workplace they must understand corporate culture (Boone & Kurtz, 1995; Bell, 1994; Bovee & Thill, 1999). When discussing corporate culture, many business communication textbooks offered specific guidelines for dealing with various groups that make up the culture of the organization. Business communication curriculums provide extensive literature on how to work successfully with various groups of people in the workplace. Examples of such groups that receive attention in most business curriculums: (1) Asians; (2) African-Americans; (3) Women; and (4) Handicapped. Although this is not an exhaustive list, one area that does not appear to be addressed in business communication textbooks is the preparation of future employees to work with gays and lesbians as a micro culture in corporate America.

Most workplaces have programs in place to increase the awareness of issues particular to minorities and the physically challenged. Unfortunately few programs exist which address the issues pertinent to gays and lesbians. While programs designed to increase awareness of minorities exist, the issues that face gays and lesbians in the workplace are not one of numbers. Woods (1994) estimates that

As a group, lesbians and gay men probably outnumber Hispanics, Asian-Pacific Islanders, the disabled and others whom we have traditionally classified as minorities. If the standard 10% estimate can be believed, their proportion of the professional work force approaches that of African Americans, who represent 12.1% of the population--but only 5.6% of the professional work force (p. 207).

Yet countless employers continue to overlook the needs of a group of employees that may comprise anywhere from 6% to 12% of the work force (Woods, 1994). By choosing to ignore sexual orientation as a diversity issue, companies send a clear message: Diversity means valuing only those employees with whom we feel comfortable.

OBJECTIVES OF STUDY

There is no question that a significant portion of the gay and lesbian population has expressed that they have experienced some kind of discriminatory treatment in the workplace (Kovach, 1995). Similarly, a significant number of CEOs have indicated in surveys that they would hesitate to give management jobs to workers who are homosexual. However, it is only recently that homosexuality has been openly discussed, particularly within the context of the workplace. So it is no surprise that to date there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. The research focused on asking business communication students (BCS) about their perceptions and attitudes towards gays and lesbians in the workplace. Certain other demographic factors were also considered. The following research questions guided the study:

(1) What are the perceptions and attitudes of BCS towards gays and lesbians in the workplace?

(2) What types of diversity training and instruction should be provided to BCS as future employees on working with gays and lesbians?

(3) What types of topics, training, and instruction should be provided to business students as future employees to increase an awareness and understanding of gay and lesbian students?

LITERATURE REVIEW

Many human resource managers ignore the issues that affect gay men and lesbians in the workplace. Not only do managers avoid resistance from other managers and employees, but also they lack education about such issues (Lucas & Kaplan, 1994). Consequently, human resource policy decisions regarding homosexual employees may be based on stereotypes and misinformation. In such cases, a significant segment of the workforce--gay men and lesbians--becomes the object of discrimination (Lucas & Kaplan, 1994). …