Orientation at work

How does sexual orientation change our assumptions about gender conformity in the workplace?

Dec. 9, 2014

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Heather Clarke, PhD candidate (left), and Dr. Kara Arnold
investigate gender roles in the workplace.

Choosing a topic of research can be a challenge for PhD students who want their work to be meaningful and innovative, and to help launch a career in their chosen field. Students find their research topics in many different places. Heather Clarke, doctoral candidate in management with the Faculty of Business Administration, found her unique area of research in a graduate-level course in gender and diversity.

One of the topics explored in this course, taught by Dr. Kara Arnold, associate dean (research), Faculty of Business Administration, was the influence of gender stereotypes on perceptions of competence and likeability for female leaders in the workplace. This led Ms. Clarke to wonder what happens when sexual orientation is factored into the equation.

Upon further investigation, Ms. Clarke and Dr. Arnold discovered that little research has investigated how sexual orientation influences how individuals are evaluated in the workplace, which makes their research project, Sexual Orientation and Gender-typed Work: Integrating Role Congruity and Implicit Inversion Theories, a ground-breaking one.

clarke-research-report-pullquote“Research demonstrates that gender stereotypes about homosexuals tend to be in the opposite direction to gender stereotypes about heterosexuals,” Ms. Clarke explains. “We tend to assume that heterosexual women are feminine and lesbian women are masculine, heterosexual men masculine and gay men feminine. So we want to know, when information is given about sexual orientation, how does that change our assumptions about gender conformity and therefore our assumptions about a person’s suitability for or competence to do a job?”

This innovative research has been well received by colleagues and could eventually develop into its own stream or program of research. Novel and timely, this project contributes to a larger theme of social justice.

“Looking at under-represented groups in the workplace and what kinds of things are barriers to their full participation is an important piece of this research,” Dr. Arnold adds. “And the social justice aspect of this work certainly fits in with some of the broader strategic research themes that Memorial is interested in as a diverse and progressive university.”

This story appears in Memorial University’s 2014 Research Report.