UP study reveals impact of office gossip on black gay and lesbian individuals in workplaces

A study by University of Pretoria (UP) researchers that investigated the effects of office gossip on black gay and lesbian South Africans has revealed the significant challenges faced by these individuals in South African workplaces.

Industrial psychologist Professor Nasima MH Carrim of UP’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences embarked on this study with colleagues after recognising the need to delve deeper into issues of “otherness” and marginalisation. Through in-depth interviews, the study aimed to shed light on the impact of workplace gossip on a marginalised community.

Despite efforts to discourage gossip and promote diversity, many participants reported feeling isolated and marginalised due to negative rumours and discriminatory behaviour. Office gossip not only perpetuated stereotypes and prejudices, but also exacerbated feelings of anxiety and distress among those targeted.

The research also suggests that black African lesbian women at lower organisational levels experience greater marginalisation in the form of gossip compared to black African gay men. Furthermore, the perception among participants was that gossip related to sexual orientation is more rooted in black African communities than in white, coloured and Indian South African communities. The concern of sexual identity disclosure and the overlap between the community and workplace was also apparent.

“It’s not easy to change people’s mindsets around certain beliefs as these are strongly held values that stem from religion and long-held belief systems,” Prof Carrim says. “But we can teach employees how to embrace differences without becoming toxic and to respect people who hold a different set of beliefs to our own. We all have different world views; therefore, we need to create awareness around differences, and not unjustly hurt and impede people’s careers because they have a different set of values. So in workplaces, the idea is not to negate anyone’s belief systems – the idea is to teach people how to embrace difference.”

The research proposes promoting cross-cultural management and understanding, and providing support for marginalised employees within the company by undertaking various initiatives into consideration to create a more diverse and happier workplace. There are several ways in which corporate organisations can better structure training and orientation to curb gossip and foster a place of inclusivity:

Diversity and inclusion training: Incorporate comprehensive training programmes that include *LGBTQIA+ issues, cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias. Provide employees with the knowledge and tools to recognise and challenge discriminatory behaviour.

Promote open dialogue: Create opportunities for open dialogue and discussion about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Encourage employees to share their experiences and perspectives, fostering empathy and understanding among colleagues in a respectful and dignified manner.

Establish clear policies: Implement clear policies and procedures for addressing discrimination, harassment and gossip in the workplace. Ensure that employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and provide avenues for reporting incidents of misconduct.

Lead by example: Ensure that leadership sets a positive example by championing diversity and inclusion initiatives. Promote a culture of respect and acceptance from the top down, demonstrating a commitment to creating an inclusive work environment.

Provide support resources: Offer support resources and employee assistance programmes for individuals who may be experiencing discrimination or harassment. Ensure that employees have access to confidential support services and counselling.

It is also essential to extend awareness and education beyond the workplace to families and cultural communities to promote unity and understanding.

Community outreach programmes: Partner with local community organisations and leaders to develop outreach programmes that promote acceptance and understanding of LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Support networks: Establish support networks and peer mentoring programmes for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their families within cultural communities. Create safe spaces where individuals can share their experiences, seek guidance and receive support from others who understand their cultural context.

Advocacy and awareness campaigns: Launch advocacy and awareness campaigns to challenge stigma and discrimination within cultural communities. Use media, social media platforms and community events to promote messages of acceptance, tolerance and inclusion.

By implementing these strategies, corporate organisations can create a culture of inclusivity where all individuals feel valued, respected and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work.

* LGBTQIA+ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Allied + many other terms such as non-binary and pansexual

Professor Nasima MH Carrim

June 14, 2024

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  • Professor Nasima Carrim

    Professor Nasima Carrim completed her undergraduate studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, and has been doing research at the University of Pretoria (UP) since 2008.

    Her field of research is important because it contributes to an understanding of the different types of employees encountered in the workplace. It highlights the challenges of marginalised individuals within the corporate sector, and how organisations and managers can become inclusive once an in-depth understanding of the experiences of these individuals has been acquired.

    Prof Carrim, who is leading work on a project related to sexual harassment on campus, says she has developed interest in a new focus area: the concept of technology and how it impacts diverse employees.

    Her dream is to explore unchartered research in Africa. “There are still many topics in diversity research that are unexplored in the African context,” she says.

    Prof Carrim adds that her research matters because it highlights the importance of understanding and embracing differences.

    “My research interrogates questions about diverse individuals in the workplace, which researchers are sometimes uncomfortable to explore.”

    She has found that attending international conferences has broadened her area of interest in diversity management research, and she has discovered new research areas through that international exposure.

    Prof Carrim cites Prof Stella Nkomo, a leading scholar in diversity management research from UP’s Department of Human Resource Management, as a role model. Prof Nkomo is an A-rated National Research Foundation researcher and has received many awards locally and internationally for her contribution to leadership and gender studies.

    Prof Carrim regards her research area as an exciting field where there is a myriad of unanswered questions that needs further exploration. She says learners and undergraduate students interested in the field of diversity management will feel as if they are in a candy store.

    “There are so many questions to be answered – it is mind-boggling. There is never a dull moment in this interesting field of research. You will see that there is a wide choice of areas that you could focus on.”

    In her free time, Prof Carrim enjoys listening to music and loves travelling.

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