Case 1 Work is work and sexual orientation really does not have anything to do with your talents or your work or whatever per se.
Bert Cotreau is a dual citizen of the USA and Hungary. He was brought up in the mid-west USA, which was according to him a very homophobic environment. Bert is well-educated, holding his PhD degree in Psychology. He has been in business since the 1970s, working for a number of MNEs. Now, he is approaching retirement age.
In the 70s, when Bert was working with Native-American groups for promotion of gambling in California; he had Native-American clients that became aware of his sexual orientation due to the fact that he attended a special event with his partner. When it came time to renew the contracts, they chose not to work with Bert and he was laid off from his job. Since then, Bert has gone by himself to most special events. “Other people brought their girlfriends and I brought my partner,” he says, “It was never said or established that my partner was my life-partner, but anyone with any intelligence would draw that conclusion.”
In the Native-American culture, the term “two spirits” (i.e., the French word “Berdache”) refers to a person who adopts the roles of the opposite gender, as the contemporary label of LGBT (Callender et al., 1983). This was most common among Native Americans living in the western region of the USA. Nonetheless, “They [were] very conservative and anti-gay,” said Bert.
Although he faced this challenge in the USA, he thinks discrimination is standard worldwide. “That was then in the ‘80s and ‘90s and I find it still true today I think,” Bert says, “It is changing but it will not change dramatically unless (open-minded and diverse) young people come into leadership positions. It will not change as long as people in my age group are in my position [leadership], because it is a cultural thing. The issue is not as important as it was 10 years ago. Gay rights have changed dramatically. I never thought it would be.”
Consistent with his arguments, based on upper echelon theory (Hambrick & Mason, 1984) , several scholars have demonstrated that top management team (TMT) diversity, such as demographic diversity (Jimenez, Ruiz-Arroyo, & Pulles, 2014; Zhu & Yin, 2016), educational diversity (Wiersema & Bantel, 1992) , functional diversity (Bantel & Jackson, 1989; Qian, Cao, & Takeuchi, 2013), task-related diversity (Li, Liu, Lin, & Ma, 2016), and tenure diversity (Boeker, 1997; Elenkov, Judge, & Wright, 2005), has a strong positive effect on firm innovation performance (Hambrick, Cho, & Chen, 1996; Pitcher & Smith, 2001). This is primarily due to the fact that TMT diversity increases the level of cognitive diversity, which is a necessary element of innovation (Bantel & Jackson, 1989; Miller, Burke, & Glick, 1998; Wiersema & Bantel, 1992); besides, it enhances the level of commitment to R&D (Talke, Salomo, & Kock, 2011).
Bert developed a non-profit organization himself, because of his interest in human rights and women’s rights issues. It is a human rights program with a church affiliation. With the church affiliation, homosexuality is not exactly an open topic for them, because Bert’s workers are quite conservative. “Even though we are doing human rights, it is sort of odd. We are doing such a big thing on human rights and women’s rights and [other rights] but not gay rights,” he says.
As a business partner, Bert started working with his Chinese female friend in the packaging industry in Beijing, China. Then Bert, as cofounder, owned the education company for 10 years, having offices in Seoul, Korea, and Beverly Hills, California.
Bert never intended to work internationally. He just evolved into the international assignment. “As I met these people, the opportunity presented itself to expand the business and go into different [international] areas,” explains Bert.
He has been running a plant nursery business in Estonia since 2009, living in an agriculturally based culture in Southern Estonia. His company is becoming the leading producer in his geographical market. As
Ragins and Cornwell (2001) argued that gay supervisors are also vulnerable to discrimination, Bert, as an employer who owns a company, has been discriminated against at work by his employees because of his sexual orientation. “My gayness to this day is not an outward expression in Estonia. It is not outwardly expressed nor accepted here,” he explains, because “it is possible for community members to act adversely.” “I live a private life where my home is my castle. My partner and I can be ourselves in our house,” he says. “I have the means to go places and do things where I am accepted,” said Bert.
Even though “organizational culture regarding LGBT was prohibited in China and would not have been acceptable in Korea,” for his personal well-being, he felt much more relaxed and much more part of the environment in Asia. He has more concerns and worries in Europe.
Numerous studies have argued that national culture is a key determinant of innovation (Ulijn & Weggeman, 2001; Van Everdingen & Waarts, 2003; Waarts & Van Everdingen, 2005; Westwood & Low, 2003). This is because national culture not only influences people’s tendency to take risks/opportunities, but also shapes people’s values and beliefs on diversity. Florida (2004) argued that the national culture that displays high levels of tolerance, diversity, and open-mindedness attracts more top creative talents.
Except for his Chinese business partner who was Bert’s heterosexual friend, Bert never brought up his sexual orientation with other business partners with whom he met on a business level. Even when people asked him about it, “I would deny it,” he said. “I do not think it is wise in our business environment to do that.” Researchers (Bell et al., 2011; Kurdek, 2004; Ozbilgin & Woodward, 2004) found that some LGBT employees strategically construct hypothetical heterosexual partners and bring them as “pretend” partners to company events to avoid discrimination at work. Similarly, once Bert and another lesbian friend falsely announced their engagement at the company party.
His recommendations for MNEs are: “Anytime someone either hires, or chooses not to work with someone other than because of his or her skill level or talents, it is a disservice to the company. [MNEs] are in business to do business. In a world where competition [for talent] is getting greater and greater, discriminating against anyone should be out of the question. It is bad business. It happens and it exists, but it should not be tolerated much less supported,” he says, “not business smart.”
His advice for other LGBT expatriates is: “It is critical to be understanding and knowledgeable of the culture and environment that one is placed into or is to be part of,” he says. “They should strongly think about the ramifications before making the final decision,” said Bert “If they are skeptical about going to, or becoming a part of an environment that may be hostile to them.”
Also, Bert refers to expatriates as “guests.” “If my partner and I would go out and hold hands and kiss in public and perhaps violate [host] cultural norms or standards, they in turn would make me an unwelcomed guest. If we go out and we do not show our affection in public, we are more welcome,” he says, “Like-minded people like like-minded people.”
Case 2 Ido not think being gay had a massive impact on my performance.
James Fleck is a young Irish gay man in his mid-20s. Ireland now has legalized same sex marriage, however, when James worked in Ireland, he perceived a tone of insensitivity from a general conversation at work. “Ireland in some sense is very forward-looking in the newer generation, but ... in the work environment, there is still a strong attachment to concepts like masculinity,” he says. Rumens and Broomfield (2012) revealed that masculine culture in the workplace often delays or impedes disclosure. Such barriers to disclosure restrain the full potential of human capital, and eventually, undermine their potential for innovation.
James worked at a social media platform company as an intern for six months in Munich, Germany. He felt a lot freer and a lot easier on a day-to-day basis in Germany. “The Irish are more masculine in terms of perception of what a man should be,” James says. “Germans are serious in work, but once they are out, they are great people. They are really fun and they are really accepting of modern fashion,” says James, “I did not know it about the Germans before I went there.”
“One of the main reasons I went to Germany was because I loved the country,” he says, but “I [really] fell in love [with the country] when I got there.” Additionally, James was seeking new career opportunities through his IA.
It was a small startup company (i.e., 8 years old now) with fewer than 60 employees. “The company was so new and was [entrepreneurial] not ‘faceless’, as many companies become when they grow in age and size,” James says, “We were so small that everybody knew each other and it was hard not to bring out that side of yourself and not to let people know exactly who you are in many different senses.”
According to James, in Munich, a big international city, the company would never have “a strong attachment to traditional concepts like masculinity.” The MNE considers diversity to be an integral part of employment. As a result, the company is extraordinarily heterogeneous.
Employees came from all over the world. There were 30-40 different ethnic backgrounds (e.g., Polish, Lithuanian, Pakistani, Brazilian, Serbian, American, Australian, Portuguese, Colombian, and Russian). “Almost everybody was from a different place,” he says, “It was a melting pot.” Furthermore, he noted there are multiple staff members in varying degrees of seniority who are gay.
Despite the fact that the company did not have any written guiding principles or rules in place for LGBT employees, they consciously supported them in their company culture. “A company culture is a major aspect of safeguarding LGBT employees from discrimination in that sense,” said James. “Their acceptance of and their promotion of LGBT employees as [traditional employees] is the way future international assignments will become,” James says.
“We had a lot of staunch Catholics, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. And there was never a bit of discrimination in them either,” he says, “They were younger and [represented] a newer generation, but they are more used to seeing these things and the concept of live and let live ... People within the power structures in the company were more modern and it bolsters [an inclusive company culture].”
Ancona and Caldwell (1992) argued that team diversity fosters external communications, and in turn, it leads to higher levels of innovation. Furthermore, Dahlin, Weingart, and Hinds (2005) found that team diversity is positively associated with the range and depth of information use. Considering the fact that the information is the basis of innovation (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990), team diversity accelerates innovation.
Although he had to leave earlier than expected because of family reasons, he did very well on his assignment and he loved the life he had. “My experience was, while a rare one, a place where many companies will [move] toward in the future. I worked for an excellent, modern startup company, [which] honestly believed in the health and well-being of their staff,” he comments, “Great efforts were made by upper management for everyone to know each other from team days to a ‘lunch-lottery’.”
James plans to work abroad again, largely owing to his positive work experience in Germany. During the past few months, he has had several interviews. “The hostility of another country toward LGBT would not deter me as much,” James says.
Case 3 Why do I have to hide myself even though I am still a good employee?
Paolo Tiraboschi is an Italian researcher in his 20s. As a research assistant, Paolo worked for two years in the department of public administration at a private university in Milan. He was consulting on public administration projects and also teaching classes.
While working there, Paolo concealed his sexual orientation, because it was not an LGBT-friendly workplace. “It was a very homogenous group of people. They were all Italians (i.e., except one foreigner), white, and Catholic,” he explains. “Most of them [were] married with kids, just like a traditional Italian family. Being different was not accepted.” In the past, gay employees had to quit their job because of a hostile work environment after coming out as gay. “That was apparently not a good move,” Paolo says, “That is why I did not want to disclose my sexual orientation at work. Only one person knew I was gay, because he was gay as well. He had been working there for ten years, but he never said he was gay. He told me that if I want to survive working in that department, I have to shut up.”
When his coworkers asked Paolo if he had a girlfriend, he answered, “I do not have a girlfriend. I am single.” “Technically, I did not have a girlfriend, so that was not a lie. But I had a boyfriend at that time, so it was not fully true,” Paolo says, “I was feeling upset about it. As a researcher, I can write, I can teach and I can do the exact same thing as others do.
But why can [I] not be who I am and why [do] I have to pretend being somebody else?”
Paolo came to the USA to study in 2012. Since then, he has been pursuing his PhD in public administration. When he was accepted, his department was unaware of his sexual orientation. “When I first moved here, I was afraid [of finding] a situation similar to the one in Italy. However, when I realized that people do not care if I am straight, gay or whatever, well, I said [to] them [that] I am gay,” he says. It did not take him long (i.e., a month) to share his sexual orientation with the department. Nothing changed after his disclosure. “The relationship with some cohorts even improved a lot, because I do not have to pretend [to be] somebody I am not. I am more myself,” he says, “As a gay, I have never had a problem while working here.” Some professors have a “safe zone” sticker on the office door, which means that they accept diversity. “I felt accepted for who I am and no need to cover my identity,” said Paolo.
The diversity of the department itself in terms of race (e.g., American, Asian, Indian, Latin, etc.) and religion (e.g., Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc.) may increase the level of tolerance and inclusion. In addition to an open-minded work environment, his current school has well-developed and proactive HR policies against discrimination of any kind as to race, gender, and sexual orientation. Additionally, the LGBT community is active on campus.
A large number of studies have highlighted the importance of organizational guidelines and regulations in regard to diversity inclusion, as well as diverse resource groups/communities, on innovation (Forbes, 2011; HRCF, 2016). Given the fact that exclusion and discrimination inhibit innovation, creating a more inclusive workplace is key to successful innovation.
Paolo volunteered in Africa for three months. “I went there in 2010,” he recalls, “They were pretty homophobic, but that did not stop me [from going to Africa]. They were just not ready for this thing. Perhaps in 2030, they [will] be ready and it [will] be fine. We need to give people time to accept these differences. It is not to be done in a day.”
Paolo’s advice for other LGBT expatriates is: “Just be yourself and work hard to prove that your diversity does not affect your work performance.
Being gay always pushes me forward to the limit. I always need to prove myself,” Paolo says. As a graduate student, his performance is outstanding with a 4.0 GPA and several publications at his current school.
Case 4 My difference is getting almost invisible.
Leona Tobar, in her early 30s, grew up in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, and she has been with her wife for six years. Leona, as a researcher, worked for a year at a public institution in Bogota. She has bad memories from the time she worked there, because of the homophobic work environment. “It was not only homophobic, but also macho. Gender roles were well established and I did not like it,” she says. When Leona brought up the subject of her partner with her coworkers, everyone assumed she had a husband. She said to them “I have never said that my partner is my husband. You have to ask first.” “They did not like me, because I am different,” Leona says. Her coworkers left her out of social meetings and conversations.
Leona, as a Fulbright scholar, came to the USA in 2013. As a preorientation for the Fulbright scholarship program, Leona was in Virginia for two weeks and it was a traumatic experience for her where there were numerous homophobic slurs or sexist jokes.
Substantial evidence indicates that workplace harassment or discrimination not only violate human rights, but also waste or lose the human talent needed, and eventually, stifle innovation (Gao & Zhang, 2015; USAID, 2014). Furthermore, previous empirical studies (Silverschanz, Cortina, Konik, & Magley, 2008; Waldo, 1999) found that LGBT employees who are exposed to anti-gay jokes or heterosexism have greater organizational withdrawal and lower satisfaction with work, coworkers, and supervisors.
“Young boys tend to show off their masculinity, making silly jokes about women or gays. The program has to correct it,” said Leona. Indeed, she wrote a letter to the Fulbright organization arguing that the orientation program should cover not only the topic of racial and cultural diversity but also sexual orientation diversity. Leona believes that education and awareness help people understand diversity. In the same vein, Bell, Connerley, and Cocchiara (2009) demonstrated that diversity training within the workplace should also include sexual orientation diversity. Bell et al. (2009) also asserted that diversity training would prevent discrimination by increasing empathy, awareness, and knowledge while reducing stereotypes.
Now, Leona is studying for her PhD in Florida. “I feel very lucky, because I never have felt any discrimination here. I feel accepted by my program, my classmates, and my professors,” she says, “Also, my department (public administration) is serious about jokes.” Her current school embraces diversity providing several programs for LGBTs. For instance, in a school-based mentoring program, senior LGBT students mentor LGBT newcomers helping startups, offering advice, and sharing their experiences. “I met my mentor who gives me a lot advice. Everything (i.e., the adaptation process) was smooth,” said Leona. “Always look for help and try to build a support net,” Leona recommended to other LGBT expatriates.
On a personal note, Leona mentioned that she will not go to a closed or homogeneous country because she may be at higher risk of being discriminated against. “I [will] never put myself in danger. I am never going to be in an environment where something represents a threat to me due to my sexual orientation,” said Leona. In order for LGBT expatriates to feel safe in the IA and reach their full potential, a feeling of security and acceptance of their sexual orientation needs to be ensured.