Queering Corporations: Is Pink Capitalism Enough?
Updated: Mar 10, 2020
By Ritika Agarwal, Miranda House, and Shubhangi Kumar, St. Stephen’s College
Pink Capitalism, plainly, is the incorporation of the LGBTQ movement and sexual diversity to capitalism and the market economy. It is a targeted inclusion of the LGBTQ community to generate a market focused specifically on them. And even though pride parades sweep away the world and legal turnarounds change our perspectives, it’s hard to deny that discrimination against the LGBTQ community exists, especially in the workplace. Pride parades are about celebrating diversity and inclusion. And while we do celebrate the Tim Cooks and the Ellens of the worlds, there is considerable income disparity within the LGBTQ community that demands to be acknowledged. According to a 2016 report by The Economist, gay men earn 84 to 88 cents to the dollar as compared to straight men in USA and Canada. If you were in Australia, being gay would get you anywhere between 82 and 92 cents to the dollar. The negative wage premium would persist even if you were in France, the UK, or the Netherlands, unless – surprise, surprise – you were a lesbian: various studies across countries have found that lesbians earned a statistically higher wage than straight women.
Wage Gaps in Canada
The first systematic study of the wage gap was conducted by the economist Mary Lee Badgett in 1995, wherein she concluded that being gay or bisexual decreased income by 11 to 27% for males (which she took to be a sign of discrimination) but did not have any significant impact for women. Several studies ensued, establishing new conclusions, such as the positive wage premium for lesbians and a higher average level of education for homosexuals. How have theorists tried to explain these findings? Gays could be explicitly discriminated against, which seems intuitively plausible due to the conditions they have faced in the past. However, one must also consider that gays are on average more educated than straight men, making it costlier for employers to discriminate against them. Another possible explanation is that gays usually don’t have to bear the expenses of raising children and may not be incentivised to work as hard because they can depend on the income of another male partner – the DINK phenomenon. On the other hand, women may face reverse discrimination: employers may believe lesbians won’t take breaks in their career and may be able to devote more time to work due to the absence of children. Lesbians may also be more motivated to work harder as they can’t depend on a high-income male partner like straight women. It is interesting, and perhaps ironic, to note how one form of discrimination reinforces the other.
However, all of these studies are limited by similar problems. First comes the challenge of defining homosexuality and using this definition while conducting the study. Most researchers have used an indirect approach, that is, using information on sexual behaviour to classify the respondent, whereas some ask the respondent outright. Here, it becomes important to factor in all kinds of behaviour. Where does a past same-sex encounter put the participant? Is it necessary to have been in multiple same-sex relationships to be considered homosexual? Next comes disclosure. Respondents may not feel comfortable discussing their sexuality with researchers or may not have disclosed it to employers despite revealing it to the researchers, perhaps out of fear of discrimination. This limits the study’s ability to attribute wage differences to a particular cause, for unlike race or gender, sexuality is not easily observable and might not influence workplace conditions without explicit disclosure. Non-disclosure also compounds the problem of a small sample; homosexuals form a small proportion of the population, and even fewer identify themselves as such to researchers. Such problems plague anybody studying this field and may restrict the number of studies.
Researchers have bemoaned the absence of literature of the LGBTQ+ from management studies and HRD research. Studies by Gedro (2010) and Chapman & Gedro (2009) suggest that dominant narratives of HRD are complicit in contributing to the ongoing exclusion and marginalisation of the LGBT people (Nick Rumens). It is well observed that the HRD community and corporates are extremely comfortable with adopting a heteronormative approach for structuring the dynamics in the human resources of an organisation. Heteronormativity interferes with individual psyches and social practices as a means to position heterosexuality as the dominant sexuality. What challenges does this create?
In a paper by Riach et al. (2014), the depth of gender norms within organisational frameworks is starkly revealed. In a study, Debbie (a male-to-female transsexual) described the costs of violating organisational cisnormativity (the assumption that a person’s gender identity matches their biological sex) as a result of her transformation. In transforming from a male to a female, Debbie was aware that she felt she would lose her “edge at work” which was closely related to the masculine statesman’s identity she held as a man. They reveal how Debbie planned, post-transition, to exchange her masculine organisational status and age-related prestige with the ontological security she anticipated deriving from living as a middle-aged ‘woman’, who seemed to be socially and organisationally invisible (Nick Rumens).
A majority of declarations of support by corporations are hence, bluntly put, profit maximisation strategies. The momentum gathered by Pink Capitalism gives a fake sense of acceptance and security of the LGBTQ+ community in the corporate world, and yet when one looks into the basic necessities of a formal work environment for an individual, the very fundamentals of business management theory fail the community.
While it’s unrealistic to expect the lack of dominance of the majority, the formalisation of heteronormativity through curricula, practices, methods of resolution of issues and the lack of safety to uphold one’s identity silences important discourses on gender-differences and looking beyond the binary that these workspaces operate in. So much so that even with the growing awareness about the rights of the community, the belief that there’s very little relevance of queerness to management curricula continues to prevail. (Gedro & Mizzi, 2014). Dominant heteronormativity of management scholarship has made research on the LGBT, particularly transgendered people, practically absent from the literature. (Bierema, 2015). Researchers who are interested in researching such issues may themselves be a part of the minority and thus discriminated against.
The dominant discourse of HRD, which sets the narrative and thus, the experiences of the work life of all employees, is highly performance oriented and has been problematised and countered by alternative discourses on HRD that seek greater justice, fairness and equity in how HRD is theorized and practiced (Nick Rumens). In a domain which deals with human beings, HRD research proves to be carelessly exclusive and fails to acknowledge and discuss the needs of an entire community of people.
The importance of emphasizing research into HRD for the LGBTQ+ community cannot be overstated in this day and age, and revolutionary breakthroughs are indeed a possibility with frameworks like Queer Theory and Feminism, which interrogate the role of gender at the individual, social and organisational level. There is potential to make things more comfortable in the structures within which people function, and the onus lies with the academicians, researchers and the stakeholders to not let the world get disillusioned by the claim of inclusivity that trails all talk about Pink Capitalism.
Unequal Pay: The Gay Wage Gap, The Atlantic, 2015.
Why Lesbians Tend to Earn More Than Heterosexual Women, The Economist, 2016
Arabsheibani, G. Reza, Alan Marin, and Jonathan Wadsworth. “Gay Pay in the UK.” Economica, New Series, 72, no. 286 (2005): 333-47.
Julie Gedro and Robert C. Mizzi, “Feminist Theory and Queer Theory: Implications for HRD Research and Practice”. (2014)
Nick Rumens, “Queering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities in human resource development and management education contexts”. (2017)