Could working with an openly gay individual undermine a co-worker's on-the-job performance? Not likely, according to a recent UCLA Anderson School of Management study. In fact, concealing one's sexual orientation may actually have an adverse effect on workplace function.
“While much research examines what happens to individuals who conceal an identity, there is almost no work examining what happens to a person who interacts with someone forced to hide their sexual orientation”
The findings of a six-month study, conducted by Benjamin Everly and Geoffrey Ho, Ph.D. candidates at UCLA Anderson, and Margaret Shih, Associate Professor in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior at UCLA Anderson, suggest that policies that introduce uncertainty into social interactions, such as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", may harm rather than protect performance.
The study results, recently published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, come at a controversial juncture of US politics with the Congressional repeal of the 18-year-old 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) military policy, effective Sept. 20, 2011.
"While much research examines what happens to individuals who conceal an identity, there is almost no work examining what happens to a person who interacts with someone forced to hide their sexual orientation," says Everly. "Our studies are the first to examine how policies such as Don't Ask, Don't Tell affect the performance of people working with gay teammates."
These studies focused on providing a deeper understanding of the role concealable identities may play in social interactions and determining whether disclosing or revealing sexual orientation hinders or improves performance. To that end, the researchers designed tests to measure the cognitive and sensory-motor skills of more than 50 UCLA undergraduate men, each of whom were paired with a gay confederate who would either disclose or conceal his sexual orientation.
Participants were asked to complete different tasks in two separate studies. The first examined whether participants working with openly gay partners performed better on a series of math problems compared to participants who worked with ambiguously gay partners. The second tested whether participants working with openly gay partners performed better on a Nintendo Wii shooting game compared to participants who worked with ambiguously gay partners.
The results of each study showed that the participants paired with openly gay partners performed on average 32% better on the cognitive task and 20% better on the sensory-motor task compared to participants paired with ambiguously gay partners.
Previous research has indicated that ambiguity in interactions may hurt performance, as individuals need to be able to predict behaviors and attitudes with their partners to facilitate social interaction. Disclosure of sexual orientation by a gay partner reduces ambiguity and makes the interaction less psychologically demanding.
"The results of our studies suggest that there may be beneficial effects from the abolition of DADT," suggests Shih. "It's possible that service men and women may perform better at their jobs when they no longer need to wonder about the sexual orientation of their comrades."
UCLA Anderson School of Management