In the most recent Academy of Management Annals, Matthew Birdwell and colleagues discuss the relationship between employment relationships and inequality. They document how changes in the relationships between organizations and employees have, over time, resulted in larger gaps between the “haves” and “have nots.”
As one example, the authors show that employee benefits are no longer a given for many employees. In 1980, 70% of all employees had health insurance, but by 2009, that number decreased to 54%. Given that health-reated expenses are the number one cause of personal bankruptcy (even among those with insurance), these figures are quite meaningful. Other organizational practices, such as changes in tenure, psychological contracts, and the way merit is constructed, have all served to promote income and social inequality.
By this point, you might be wondering how this discussion factors into a blog post about LGBT persons in sport. But fear not–the connection cometh.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, benefits account for about 1/5 of an employees’ overall compensation. Thus, the decision to offer things like domestic partner health benefits–or not–can influence inequality and well-being. According to the same report, 62% of all Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner health benefits. Thus, in most of those workplaces, lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees are on equal footing (from a health benefits perspective) as their peers. I do not include transgender employees here, because only 25% of all Fortune 500 companies offer transgender-inclusive benefits.
So what do we make of these data. I suggest several points are noteworthy. First, these statistics are from Fortune 500 companies, meaning they have financial resources. Thus, the decision to offer partner benefits or not is not monetary-related one; all of these companies have the resources in place to make it happen. Second, then, the decision to offer partner benefits is a choice among these companies–a choice to treat LGB employees as equals with their other co-workers and to not financially penalize them or their families because of their sexual orientation. Third, there is also a conscious choice to eschew such policies. Places like Exxon choose to treat LGB employees differently, to penalize them financially, and to add additional strain of healthcare insecurity.
There are two last points. In their article, Bidwell et al. note that the organization is:
a site of conflict among different stakeholders, which include any party with a direct economic interest in the organization (e.g., shareholders and employees) as well as other parties in society that seek to influence the organization (e.g., state, professional, and social movement actors).
This view of the organization is an encouraging one. Because they are sites for conflict, changes can occur. The HRC report illustrates as much, as more companies offer domestic partner health benefits than ever before. And, the change is needed. That only 1 in 4 Fortune 500 companies offer transgender-inclusive benefits illustrates this point. And, change can come from us: the consumers. One of the best ways to influence workplace practices from the outside is through your consumption of those goods and services. If your fitness club, favorite sport team or preferred shoe company does not offer benefits or workplace protections, do something about it: change your membership, do not follow the team, or buy different shoes. As long as there are no penalties in place for deviant behaviors, such as failing to offer partner benefits, then the practice will continue. For more in this area, see here.