About the relation between transgender people and the organizations: new subjects for studies on organizational diversity/ Da Relacao Entre Pessoas Transgeneras e a Organizacao: novos sujeitos para os estudos sobre diversidade organizacional.

Author:Baggio, Maria Carolina
Position:Human Resources and Organizations - Report


Equal treatment for the different groups that make up organizations became a subject of study in Human Resources Management in the 1970s. With the increase in the number of women, immigrants, elderly and intellectuals employees (Martinez, 2013), the typical worker studied since the dawn of management as a discipline could no longer be seen as "a worker without body, without sex and without emotions [...] but a man" (DeFrancisco & Palczewski, 2007, p. 208). Studies on Workplace Diversity thus aim to break with "the concept of a worker as being a white male" which "has permeated the academic field of management and organizational studies" (Carrieri, Diniz, Sousa, & Menezes, 2013, p. 287). This is done by identifying and studying groups of workers with 'diverse' characteristics, different from those of the archetypal "white, western, heterosexual, middle/high class, able-bodied, male" worker (Nkomo & Cox, 1999, p. 351).

Studies on gender dynamics in organizations focus mostly on relations between women and men (Martinez, 2013, pp. 38-39; Nkomo & Cox, 1999). Transgender people, the focus of this study, are often forgotten under the category of "diversity".

Transgender people are those whose gender identity or expression is different from the one typically associated with their assigned sex at birth (Grant, Mottet, & Tanis, 2011, p. 181). When an individual is born, society interprets their body as belonging to a particular gender--in Brazilian society, female or male--and socializes them in accordance with the customs seen as pertaining to that body--respectively, femininity or masculinity. In other words, a person is assigned a gender according to their body. Transgenders do not identify with the gender they were assigned or with the way society expects them to express such gender through clothes, gestures, mannerisms, and others characteristics (Grant et al., 2011, p. 180).

The way transgender people understand and express their gender, therefore, breaks with the binary logic --also called heteronormativity--, which deterministically links body, sex, gender identity and gender expression, i.e., vagina/female/woman/femininity and penis/male/man/masculinity (Souza & Carrieri, 2015). Historically, western societies in general and their organizations in particular have only perceived as legitimate those bodies that adhere to this dichotomous gender schema (Souza & Carrieri, 2015, p. 2; Thanem & Wallenberg, 2016, p. 2). Brazilian society is no different (Souza & Carrieri, 2015, p. 4). Consequently, transgender people constantly face structural prejudice and discrimination (expressed through the term transphobia) in all sectors of society for not fitting into dominant gender discourses (Grant et al., 2011; Mitchell & Howarth, 2009). The way discrimination acts as an obstacle to the entry and permanence of transgender people in the formal labor market is of special concern in this study, as it spurs the overwhelming majority of transgenders into informal economic activities (Souza & Carrieri, 2015, p. 7). Therefore, the number of transgender employees in Brazilian organizations--especially private companies--is small (Souza & Carrieri, 2015; TV Brasil Central, 2014). Adding to this the almost complete lack of studies focusing on this population in the work environment, I conclude that their experiences and relationships at work are erased by the theory and practice of organizational diversity (Souza & Carrieri, 2015, p. 1; Thanem & Wallenberg, 2016, p. 3). In addition, the few studies about transgender people in organizations are limited to developed western countries, which do not capture the particular experiences of Brazilian context.

In an effort to address these issues, I propose the following questions: what perceptions do transgenders have of their relations (1) with work, (2) with others in the workplace, and (3) with the organization?

To answer this question, this study heard six transgender individuals and sought to analyze through their narratives:

(1) Their relationship with their professional history.

(2) Their relationship with other individuals in the work environment (manager, colleagues, clients).

(3) Their relationship with the organization's policies and practices.

In order to complete this task, the next section will outline the relevant concepts to understand diversity management, transgender people, and their position in the labor market. The following section will focus on the methodological approach employed. Finally, the collected narratives will be exposed and analyzed, followed by final considerations.

Theoretical framework

Diversity management

There is no consensus as to the meaning of diversity in the field of Organizational Diversity (Martinez, 2013, p. 10). However, three central ideas are found in most definitions: difference, divergence and identity (Cox, 2001, p. 3; McGrath, Berdahl, & Arrow, 1995, p. 22; Thomas, 2004, p. 3).

Scholars also diverge on which differences constitute diversity. Authors can be divided into two groups (Nkomo, 1995): those who put forward comprehensive definitions of diversity and those who focus on specific traits. The first group sees diversity as "all the possible ways in which members of a working group can differentiate themselves" (Nkomo, 1995, p. 248), including field of work, expertise, values, and cognitive capacity, in addition to sociocultural categories such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical condition, and education. Authors in the second group restrict diversity to sociocultural categories, arguing that "the main problems [regarding diversity] arise due to the discrimination and exclusion of cultural subgroups from traditional organizations" (Nkomo, 1995, p. 248), and not due to psychological or organizational differences. Furthermore, sociocultural categories may obfuscate the latter, so that "members of subordinate groups are silenced in groups e that the group does not fully use or reflect the ability, values and lifestyles of these members" (McGrath et al., 1995, p. 30).

Both traditions share the premise that the workforce is diverse. Therefore, how can we attain as many positive results from diversity as possible? After all, unless managed efficiently and effectively, differences among organization members may lead to various problems for the group and its members, ranging from difficulties in communication to harassment and discrimination (Cox, 2001, pp. 4-5; Martinez, 2013, p. 44; McGrath et al., 1995, p. 25). When managed well, however, the variety of skills, attitudes and knowledge brought by a heterogeneous group may optimize problem solving and decision making in organizations (Cox, 2001, pp. 6-7; McGrath et al., 1995, p. 25). This set of diverse experiences also promotes innovation and creativity (Cox, 2001, p. 7).

Diversity is well managed when organizations create a "comprehensive management process to develop an environment that works for all employees" (Thomas, 1991, p. 10). In practice, however, the different paradigms that give rise to diversity management processes are diverse and often ineffective (Thomas & Ely, 2002).

The dominant and most traditional paradigm is discrimination and justice, which manages diversity through assimilation, seeking equal opportunity and fair treatment by denying differences (Thomas & Ely, 2002, pp. 38-44). Under this paradigm, organizations restrict their role to complying with the relevant legislation and protecting humans rights, and do not leverage diversity to its advantage (Cox, 2001, p. 4). In this approach, the various experiences undergone by each group within the organization remain unidentified (Thomas & Ely, 2002, p. 40).

The diversification of the consumer market brought along the second paradigm, based on companies pushing "for access to and legitimacy with--a more diverse clientele by matching the demographics of the organization to those of critical consumer or constituent groups." (Thomas & Ely, 2002, p. 44). Organizations working under this paradigm, however, do not integrate diversity into their culture, as "diverse people" are only assigned to certain specific positions and communication between "diverse" and "non-diverse" employees is deficient (Thomas & Ely, 2002, p. 46).

The third and most recent paradigm, called learning and efficiency, brings the best of both previous paradigms by combining equal opportunities to all with the recognition of cultural differences and their importance, so as to allow organizations to integrate the different perspectives and approaches brought by different groups into their skillset (Thomas & Ely, 2002, pp. 48-51). It is the most efficient way of managing diversity: by promoting differences and learning with them, organizations can create a safe environment where everyone can apply their full potential at work and enhance its modus operandi through different inputs (Thomas & Ely, 2002, p. 50).

The main path for organizations to migrate from the first two paradigms to the third is voice, "the say employees have in matters of concern to them in their organization" (Armstrong, 2012, p. 419). This relation of talking and listening generates valuable inputs to management decisions (Thomas & Ely, 2002, pp. 52-53) and fosters, among employees, the feeling that integration is appreciated (Martinez, 2013, pp. 77-78). An environment in which people have a voice can give room for expression, change, and the affirmation of identity. However, if there is no structure that gives voice to minority groups, they tend to remain silent for fear of retaliation and to preserve and conserve the group (Bell, Ozbilgin, Beauregard, & Surgevil, 2011, pp. 132-139). As a result of this silence, experiences are erased and prejudice and discrimination take place, often leading to a decrease in work performance and even resignations or dismissals (Bell et al., 2011, pp. 134-139; Martinez, 2013, p. 79).

When analyzing diversity...

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