Impact Factor 2.089
2017 JCR, Clarivate Analytics 2018

The world's most-cited Multidisciplinary Psychology journal

Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00320

“It’s not always possible to live your life openly or honestly in the same way” – Workplace inclusion of lesbian and gay humanitarian aid workers in Doctors without Borders

  • 1Department of Sociology, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Groningen, Netherlands

In this exploratory study, we present findings from semi-structured interviews with 11 self-identified lesbian and gay (LG) humanitarian aid workers of Doctors without Borders (MSF). We investigate their perceptions of workplace inclusion in terms of perceived satisfaction of their needs for authenticity and belonging within two organizational settings, namely office and field. Through our combined deductive and inductive approach, based on grounded theory, we find that perceptions of their colleagues’ and supervisors’ attitudes and behaviors, as well as organizational inclusiveness practices play a role in LGs’ perceived authenticity, but not belonging, in the workplace. However, these organization-level characteristics do not account for between-participant differences in perceived authenticity. Therefore, we inductively construct a typology of three groups, which we coined conscious first-missioners, authentic realists, and idealistic activists, based on how LG humanitarian aid workers assess and deal with not being able to be their authentic selves when they are in the field, because homosexuality is illegal in many project countries. Conscious first-missioners are separated from the other two groups based on having gone to the field once, whereby they felt in control over the decision on how to manage their sexuality. Alternatively, authentic realists and idealistic activists alike felt they did not really have a choice in how to manage their sexuality, but handled that differently. We find the importance of one’s sexuality as well as adherence to the overarching organizational mission relevant individual-level factors herein. Furthermore, we find disclosure of sexual identity to be strongly context-dependent, as participants are ‘out of the closet’ in the office, but go back into the closet when they enter the field, with different country contexts even leading to different decisions concerning self-disclosure, thus demonstrating the importance of careful sexual identity management. This so-called disclosure dilemma, we find, may not be merely an individual choice, but rather a shared dilemma involving multiple stakeholders, such as the organization and fellow team members. We discuss the findings’ contributions to existing literature on LGs’ workplace experiences and implications for future research on inclusion of sexual and other invisible minorities in the workplace.

Keywords: Workplace equality, Workplace inclusion, Lesbian, Gay, semi-structured interviews, humanitarian aid

Received: 28 Aug 2018; Accepted: 01 Feb 2019.

Edited by:

Michelle K. Ryan, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Catherine S. Daus, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, United States
Victor E. Sojo, The University of Melbourne, Australia  

Copyright: © 2019 Rengers, Heyse, Otten and Wittek. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Julian M. Rengers, University of Groningen, Department of Sociology, Groningen, Netherlands,