Despite the increasing awareness of initiatives in favor of diversity and inclusion, much remains to be done. For example, same-sex marriage is legal only in 28 countries. In addition, it is still criminalized to be transgender in 13 countries, and such people cannot change gender in at least 47 countries.
The lack of legal support is also evident in the workplace, where many people refrain from disclosing their LGBTQIA + status to avoid possible discrimination and obstacles in their careers. Acting professionally, in fact, often means engaging in heteronormative behaviors, such as choosing clothes, tone of voice, avoiding manners, and conversations that may highlight their sexual identity.
Thus, some LGBTQIA + employees do not seek to reveal or verify information about them in conversations in the presence of their colleagues. However, social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and many others are becoming more prevalent in work-related situations every day, presenting new contexts for LGBTQIA + people.
Contrary to the idea of hiding or controlling information about oneself, social media allows employees and managers to gain insight into everyone’s lives beyond the traditional work environment. Messages posted from home on Twitter about work-related difficulties or even corporate actions on TikTok are common examples of how social media is increasingly blurring the boundaries between work and life. privacy.
We all think in one way or another of ways we can present ourselves positively online to increase our fame and gain the respect of our peers as well as our superiors. Still, LGBTQIA + individuals may face additional challenges in this process. Our latest research, drawn from 480 hours of observation and 20 interviews with gay employees, suggests that social media creates a dilemma for these employees.
A more blurred professional-private boundary
To them, these platforms are generally seen as safe spaces where they can express themselves more authentically. When the boundaries between work and private life are blurred online, employees ask themselves the following questions: How can social media remain a safe space while maintaining a professional attitude? In the end, we found that employees do not have an unambiguous answer to this question, and try to handle this situation as best they can by applying three possible patterns of behavior:
Mirroring behavior : Unsure of the possible impact of social media on their careers, most employees try to achieve similar levels of disclosure in face-to-face and online situations, on a continuum from keeping secret to revealing their sexuality. Calvin *, human resources analyst, illustrates this behavior as follows:
“I would never put a picture of myself and my partner on my desk and I’m not saying I’m gay. If I’m asked, I’m not lying … Online I do not create a special group, but I do not post much, and I would never post a picture where I, for example. kissing my partner. »
Others, like Gabriel, a sales manager, use several additional mechanisms, such as creating a fake romantic relationship with a friend, posting her and tagging her in photos. He also controls every friend request and avoids using terms that could reveal his homosexuality in face-to-face and online interactions.
Online destigmatization : Some employees feel limited at work and need to push the boundaries of what is considered professional. They use social media to amplify their voice in online destigmatization efforts, which are often impossible at work. Ethan, a marketing manager, gives an example of this behavior:
“Today, I take a more militant stance without worrying so much about what people will say. For example, one of my recent photos on Instagram is a beautiful photo of me and my partner on the beach, with a very “girl” aesthetic. »
In doing so, he ensures that social media remains safe spaces, and also shows other colleagues that expressions of homosexuality are not unprofessional. Marketing analyst Mario mentioned Ethan as a role model. Like him, he intentionally shares posts on LGBTQIA + causes and lighter topics, such as pop divas and memes.
Rejection of context breakdown : As an exception, employees may not see social media as increasingly causing the work and life context to collapse, engaging in different behaviors in face-to-face and online situations. This is the case with Francis (marketing coordinator), who mentions:
“I completely separate private life and work life. I’m not talking about my business at work. Nobody has anything to do with it. »
However, they do not transfer these concerns to the online environment where he was generally open about his sexuality. So he behaved differently in face-to-face and online situations.
Actions to deal with problems
We have found that constantly monitoring and controlling who sees what and when online is stressful for gay employees, who often underestimate the efforts required by social media. The term “mirror” comes from the English term “fun house mirrors” (distortion of mirrors of amusement parks), where you see unexpected distorted images of yourself. Hiding information and mastering privacy settings on social media are cumbersome tasks, and colleagues could easily find information about the sexuality of their peers.
Denying context collapse also does not seem to benefit employees, as colleagues do not understand why one behaves differently in face-to-face and online situations. Ethan comments that it is “difficult to understand a person like Francis because he ends up reproducing prejudice and showing that one can not be gay here”.
These difficulties in controlling online images on social media may be the reason why some employees embrace destigmatization efforts. Tired of the constant and growing mechanisms to match an ideal “professional” type, these employees conclude that normalizing and differentiating their sexuality is the best course of action.
Despite the specific focus of our research, social media and work behavior have a greater or lesser impact on all employees. Based on our research, there are certain actions organizations could take to address the issues we identified in our study:
Awareness : Developing social media training for employees and managers and discussing possible unconscious biases involved in daily online interactions could be a good measure to raise awareness of social media issues. The first step is to problematize the interactions that create problems for many employees.
Clear strategies and policies : Instead of only encouraging informal use of social media, organizations could better link the role of social media to broader organizational strategies. Many of the uncertainties we observed in the field were due to a lack of clarity about the role of social media in the workplace.
Map and include marginalized people : In our study, the company decided to map the employees who commented on the problems they suffered from, both at work and on social media. This has been crucial to the development of their inclusive actions, which have also taken into account the potential impacts of social media in daily interactions in the workplace.
Allowing these employees to participate in the formulation of actions and goals has a dual function: (1) it gives legitimacy to the actions of the company in the eyes of other employees because those who suffer are also obligated to help the organization improve. ; and (2) it becomes a reliable guide for managers who are assured that their actions reflect the problems that employees feel.
* Names have been changed.