Eden King and colleagues recently conducted an interesting study looking at how lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals manage their identities at work.* They also examined events that might trigger the identity management process, as well as context factors. The latter includes elements such as who was involved, where the events took place, and so on.
They gathered data from 61 people working in different organizations. The study participants then provided continuing feedback over a 3-week span, and during this time, 51 of the 61 participants encountered actions that resulted in identity management taking place. Thus, their study focused on the responses of these 51 people.
They observed that, on average, people experienced a little more than one identity management event per week (3.6 over the 3 week span). Examples include the LGB employees letting someone presume they were heterosexual, hinting at their sexual orientation without telling people they were LGB, and dressing in a way that might lead someone to suspect they were LGB, among many others.
The people in this study were more likely to reveal their sexual orientation than they were to conceal that information. Of course, this varied by the situation. When interacting with another LGB individual, they were likely to reveal. On the other hand, if they did not know how the other party would react or if they were interacting with a customer, then the LGB individual were more likely to conceal. Women were also more likely to reveal than were men.
Overall, the results show that the identity management strategies are not a one time event. That is, people do not disclose their sexual orientation and then all of a sudden, the world knows. Instead, they must disclose one a weekly basis to various people. And, the people in this study were strategic in how they managed that information, weighing the potential costs of each interaction. Finally, there was consistent evidence that when they believed they would be supported, LGB individuals were more likely to disclose. This is good news for managers, as that is something they (the manager) can strongly influence, both in their own behaviors and in modeling the supportive, inclusive behaviors for others in the workplace.
* King, E. B., Mohr, J. J., Peddie. C. I., Jones, K. P., & Kendra, M. (in press). Predictors of identity management: An exploratory experience-sampling study of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers. Journal of Management. doi: 101177/0149206314539350.