Broadening partner benefits to improve recruitment and retention among LGBT employees in united states institutions of higher education.

AuthorShrader, Russell
PositionLesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender - Report

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) population has become increasingly noticeable in discussions of diversity and equality, especially as diversity management has allowed for consideration of the fate of different populations after the hiring stage, including variations in humankind and any identifiable varying traits (Cox, 1993; Ewoh, 2013). Even though population-based studies often do not include questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, it is generally thought that between 8.2 to 8.7 million United States citizens identify as LGB citizens (transgender numbers are less well-known), or between 3.5 to 3.7 percent of the population (Gates, 2015). Recent developments include an increased acceptance of same-sex marriage, the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Section 3), the strike-down by the Supreme Court of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (Pub. L. 104-199), in the case United States v. Windsor (570 U.S.--2013), and California's state constitutional marriage amendment (Proposition 8, 2008), and many state marriage amendments ruled unconstitutional in federal district courts. The discourse surrounding LGBT diversity and equality is likely to continue in both cultural and court discussions.

The United States higher education field also is replete with examples related to LGBT equality. Many universities offer domestic partner benefits, which include insurance and any other benefits available to married spouses that are also extended to same-sex domestic partners. However, other universities deny domestic partner benefits to their LGBT employees. This situation is revealing and prompts several questions. Why are some universities more successful with domestic partner benefits than others? Despite advancements for the LGBT population, how can public organizations without statewide marriage equality or equal rights for the LGBT population compete for the best and most qualified employees? If the public sector purports to represent all people, does the existence of domestic partner benefits improve recruitment from the LGBT population?

Theory suggests that domestic partner benefits improve recruitment and retention by enhancing LGBT employee voice, equity, and economic considerations. Drawing on semi-structured questionnaires and interviews with human resources personnel at several public and private universities, this study examines the effects that the availability of domestic partner benefits have on recruitment and retention of LGBT employees in public organizations. This study also examines whether recruitment alternatives to domestic partner benefits, often referred to as "soft benefits," have an effect on LGBT employment and retention.

This paper is divided into five parts. The first part reviews the literature to discuss the relationship between LGBT employees and organizational diversity. It also reviews problems that may be faced by LGBT employees and the theories that may shed light on the nature of those problems. The second part introduces the research questions and a theoretical framework related to the availability of domestic partner benefits and overall recruitment and retention. The third part describes the methodology and the data collection process, and reports results. The fourth part analyzes and interprets the data. Finally, the paper considers future research paths and how this research contributes to the overall conversation related to LGBT recruitment and retention.


Some problems related to LGBT representation in public organizations have a historical basis. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 aimed to ensure that representative bureaucracy occurred, meaning that the federal workforce was representative of increasing diversity occurring in the United States. Representative bureaucracy posits that if the government reflects the vast demographic differences in the nations, citizens' values and wishes will be ensured. In order to adequately assess representative bureaucracy, organizations need to look beyond simple reporting of numbers and, instead, provide opportunities for success to everyone (Naff, 2001). However, Lewis and Pitts (2009) noted that the Civil Service Reform Act did not include LGBT representation in its commitment to diversity in the federal government workforce. Race and sex often are two diversity terms that are tangible in diversity management discussions, in part because these two qualities may be observed more easily than others. Since sexual orientation is not a visible attribute, it may be more difficult to observe. Indeed, not only did the United States historically base diversity on race and sex, but LGBT citizens were once prohibited from government jobs and have had to overcome decades of discrimination (Lewis & Pitts, 2009). Therefore, organizations may purport to understand the LGBT population, but the difficulty of identifying the population and deep-seated feelings of immorality toward the population may cause underrepresentation (Bell, Ozbilgon, Beauregard, & Surgevil, 2011). Norman-Major (2015) wrote that LGBT policies have been incremental and a hodgepodge between state and federal levels, resulting great inequity and inefficiency. Lack of federal protection has allowed the hodgepodge to continue and a slow development of LGBT-inclusive policies.

Ninety-one percent of Fortune 500 companies and many other private industry organizations offer domestic partner benefits to their LGBT employees (Human Rights Campaign, 2014), yet many public institutions remain averse to offering such benefits or unable to compete in offering them. Buchanan and Trapp (2013) identified several distinct problems that arise for LGBT employees when they are employed by public organizations that do not offer the benefits. First, a compensation equity issue occurs; if domestic partner benefits are not available, LGBT employees are paid less than their heterosexual counterparts, since those benefits must be purchased elsewhere at an often higher cost. Second, recruitment and retention suffer, since the LGBT employees could work in private industry or for another public institution offering domestic partner benefits. Finally, LGBT employees often are caught in a struggle between administrative and political factors, including state culture, laws, and constitutional amendments affecting LGBT citizens (mostly through provisions that prohibit same-sex marriages or civil unions). These factors inhibit otherwise supportive public organizations from offering the benefits, despite evidence that availability of benefits would not have an adverse impact on the organization. Naylor and Haulsee (2014) wrote that over 1,100 federal benefits are denied to same-sex partners where marriage or legal recognition of the union is not allowed. The ensuing result is that benefits are distributed unequally between same-sex couples and opposite-sex married couples, and same-sex couples are simply treated unequally. The availability of domestic partner benefits would, at the very least, offer some workplace validation of same-sex relationships and provide monetary considerations in light of the inability for the couples to marry and otherwise be treated equally as heterosexual couples.

Some higher education institutions in states that are traditionally hostile to LGBT equality have taken note of the importance of offering domestic partner benefits and the negative consequences that may result when they are not offered. The Pride and Equity Faculty and Staff Association (PEFSA) at the University of Texas at Austin published a brief in 2008 outlining the need for domestic partner benefits at the institution and the negative recruitment and retention consequences that resulted from the university not offering the benefits. President William Powers stated that the school competes well with other employers when considering overall university programs, but, despite the opportunities of working with good faculty and students, an employee often is lost to a competing school with domestic partner benefits (PEFSA, 2008). In Virginia, an article published in The Washington Post (2013) stated that tenured LGBT professors left public schools because of the state's refusal to offer domestic partner benefits. The former rector of the College of William and Mary's Board of Visitors wrote a cautionary letter to Virginia college presidents and Boards of Visitors' rectors urging attention to the importance of the issue, arguing that at the very minimum, public universities should fight for domestic partner benefits (The Washington Post, 2013).

Despite the task force reports and urging from Boards of Visitors, many public universities have made little progress toward offering domestic partner benefits. Buchanan and Trapp (2013) argued that such factors as religion, race, region, and the relationship of state politics to the universities may be the best explanatory variables for the lack of progress. Even if the aforementioned factors explain decisions not to offer domestic partner benefits to LGBT citizens, the imperative remains that the availability of the benefits could be seen as progress toward equality by all workers. In many businesses, the availability of domestic partner benefits also helps unmarried heterosexual workers, through direct compensation and also through the larger lens of full inclusion for everyone. In most business cases, very little backlash has ensued from the availability of domestic partner benefits (Day & Greene, 2008).


Organizational theory offers some support for the claims that expanding benefits to LGBT employees will improve organizational culture and performance. Schneider's Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) theory (Schneider, 1987; Schneider, Goldstein, and Smith, 1995) may offer insight into the LGBT...

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