Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

National Differences in Effects of Perceived Workplace Discrimination on the Mentoring Relationships of Gay and Lesbian Proteges

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

National Differences in Effects of Perceived Workplace Discrimination on the Mentoring Relationships of Gay and Lesbian Proteges

Article excerpt


Gay men and lesbians, at 4-17 percent of the workforce, are a larger group than many other minorities (Gonsiorek & Weinrich, 1991) yet there is very little research on gay and lesbian issues in the workplace. This study examines the effects of perceived workplace discrimination on the likelihood of the formation of informal mentoring relationships of gay and lesbian proteges and on the amount of psychosocial support reported by those in mentoring relationships. It is hypothesized that perceived workplace discrimination acts as a barrier to gaining informal mentoring relationships for gay and lesbian employees. It is also hypothesized that perceived workplace discrimination will be associated with a decrease in the amount of psychosocial support in mentoring relationships heterogeneous with respect to sexual orientation and that it will be associated with an increase the psychosocial support in mentoring relationships homogeneous with respect to sexual orientation.


Mentoring is defined as a senior person guiding a junior person in an organization and aiding in the junior person's development. Mentors usually have more advanced experience and knowledge (Kram, 1985) and occupy higher power positions (Ragins, 1997) than their proteges. The value of mentoring experiences for proteges has been widely studied since Kram's seminal work two decades ago (e.g. Kram, 1983; 1985). Mentoring relationships serve two functions: career functions and psychosocial functions (Kram, 1983). The career functions are elements of the mentoring relationship that assist the protege in preparation for career advancement. These functions include providing sponsorship, coaching, protection, exposure, and challenging work to the protege. The psychosocial functions assist in the protege's development of a sense of competence, sense of identity, and work-role effectiveness through role modeling, counseling, acceptance and confirmation, and friendship.

A heterogeneous mentoring relationship involves a mentor and a protege who do not share the same group memberships associated with power differences in organizations (Ragins, 1995). Largely because of sex and race stratification within organizations, majority members are more likely to be in homogeneous mentoring relationships with other majority members and minorities in heterogeneous mentoring relationships (Dreher & Cox, 1996; Thomas, 1990). Dreher and Cox (1996) and Thomas (1990) examined mentoring relationships that are heterogeneous with respect to sex and/or race.

Empirical research indicates that perceived or actual mentor-protege similarity is positively related to the amount of mentoring received (Burke, McKeen & McKenna, 1993; Dreher & Dougherty, 1997; Ensher & Murphy, 1997; Ragins & Cotton, 1999; Thomas, 1990). This phenomenon is explained by the similarity-attraction paradigm (Byrne, 1971), which suggests that perceived and actual similarity influences the perceptions of shared identity and liking between two individuals. Although Byrne's (1971) original research referred to similarity in attitudes, more recent research has extended these findings to include similarity in demographic characteristics (Tsui & O'Reilly, 1989). Liking, perceived similarity, and psychosocial and career support each contributed significantly to proteges' satisfaction with their mentor; each is an important contributor to a successful mentoring relationship, contributing significant amounts of variance in protege satisfaction (Ensher & Murphy, 1997).


Heterosexism has been defined as valuing heterosexuality as superior to and/or more natural or normal than gay and lesbian sexual orientations (Morin, 1977). Heterosexism focuses on heterosexual privilege and draws attention to the constancy of the experience and not just episodic violence and harassment (Herek & Berrill, 1992). Examples of institutionalized organizational heterosexism include the lack of policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and failure to provide gay and lesbian employees benefits equal to those provided to heterosexual employees. …

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