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Gay Male and Lesbian Leaders Possess Good Leadership Qualities


by Abby Welsh, SIOP Intern

Recent research has found sexual orientation may be a determining factor for employees

Being a gay male or lesbian in the workplace is often thought of as being difficult or challenging. However, identifying oneself as a sexual minority in today’s society may reveal specific traits that are conducive to leadership in a work environment because of the challenges gays and lesbians sometimes face on a daily basis, according to a recent study.

Nicholas Salter, an assistant professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey, Ben Liberman, a research psychologist for U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and Taja Estrada, a PhD student in the graduate program at Seattle Pacific University, conducted a study to determine how employees view gay leaders as opposed to straight ones. The study was recently presented at SIOP’s annual conference in Houston in April.

The three created a hypothetical setting in which each participant was given a biography of two leaders to look over.

“Everyone read the same profile, the only difference was the gender and the sexual orientation of the two leaders,” Salter said.

Salter, Liberman, and Estrada did not want the orientation to stand out when the participants were evaluating each biography, so the mention of their sexual orientation was downplayed when revealing this information, he explained.

“For example, some people might have read, ‘John lives with his partner,’ while others, ‘John lives with his wife,’” Salter said. “It was just enough information for people to identify their sexual preference.”

After they reviewed the biography, the participants read a dialogue between the leader and employees and were asked their reactions to each one when they were done reviewing both.

“The dialogue was the same for a gay leader and a straight one,” Salter explained. “Each dialogue perceived a situation and how each leader would handle it. This gave the participant reading more of a clarification of who they would prefer working for.”

Usually heterosexual leaders are considered more task-orientated but not in Salter’s study.

“Straight leaders typically are better at their job and usually have trouble being personable, but they weren’t rated better than gay and lesbian leaders in any way in this particular study,” Salter added.

It actually found that gay managers were better collaborators and had a more interpersonal side.

Other sources support their research that gay leaders may be willing to relate to their employees on a more personal level instead of making work only about work.

Sources agree that certain skills that may be enhanced are, “adaptability, intuitive communications, and creative problem solving.” These qualities are more appealing to employees who prefer working in a more stable work environment.

“Our study found that gay male and lesbian leaders were rated more favorably than heterosexual leaders with regards to diversity management and collaborations,” Salter said.

This runs counter to negative stereotypes and expectations of gay leaders, according to the researchers.

“Anti-gays or homophobes don’t come to mind here,” Salter added. “In this study, we identify the positives of gay leaders and how their work ethics may be preferred over straight leaders by employees.”

However, employees still feel more comfortable working with straight leaders. This could be because of how society has trained people to think that way, but Salter said he wanted to explore the struggles of gay or lesbian leaders in the workplace by bringing out the positive aspects of their work abilities.

“People want to work with people that go beyond just working. I found that you are a better leader if you are different and relate to the people who are working for you,” he explained.

Not only will this advice help someone become a better leader, but it will make employees feel more comfortable and happier in their work environment.

“Both types of leaders have their positives and negatives, and not every gay or straight leader exhibits the results found in our study,” Salter said. “But I encourage everyone to overcome societal norms by viewing gay and lesbian managers with a positive perception.”