LGBT issues in the HRD and adult education literature: Past research and future needs

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Conference Title

Academy of Human Resource Development Conference Proceedings


Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel in Schaumburg (Chicago), IL

Conference Dates

February 23-27, 2012

Date of Presentation



Issues related to human resource development (HRD) and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people such as workplace inclusion, employee affinity groups, and LGBT-specific diversity initiatives are being addressed in organizations more often now than ever before. This paper explores the existing literature on LGBT issues in HRD and adult education through a systemic review in order to determine what research exists and what future directions are necessary. This review revealed a small core of research related to these issues. Existing work is mainly conceptual, and there is a lack of quantitative work. Topics of focus are related to organizational change and diversity efforts, with very little research on HR policy, career development, and workplace education. Key findings include that HR professionals have primarily served in a reactive role, rather than leading on these issues. Keywords: HRD research; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT); sexual minorities; diversity Issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in United States (U.S.) workplaces have captured the attention of organizations recently, causing favorable changes in relatively short time periods. The Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index measures an employer’s “commitment to equal treatment of employees, consumers, and investors, irrespective of [an employee’s] sexual orientation or gender identity and expression” (Corporate Equality Index, 2007, p. 12) using a scale of 0-100 percent. The 2010 report noted that 305 businesses received a perfect 100 percent rating. That number was a 45 percent increase over the previous year, and those 305 businesses represent over 9.3 million full-time employees (Corporate Equality Index, 2010). Even in these challenging economic times, “the Corporate Equality Index once again demonstrates that businesses recognize the importance of working with and providing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers and consumers” (Corporate Equality Index, 2010, p. 1). From a research standpoint, however, LGBT workplace issues have not received a great deal of attention. Ragins (2004) notes that they “constitute one of the largest, but least studied, minority groups in the workforce” (p. 35). An examination of LGBT workplace issues is appropriate for HRD researchers. LGBT individuals constitute a sexual minority (Kameny, 1971; Leonard, 2003) that could benefit from conceptual, empirical, and theoretical work connecting the issue of sexual minorities as a distinct group to diversity and other concerns of HRD. Is the lack of research-related attention on this topic related to lack of interest on the part of, or lack of acceptance by, the academic community? In 2008, Githens, Schmidt, Rocco, and Gedro hosted the first preconference on LGBT issues in HRD at the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD) International Conference. AHRD proved to be slower in its acceptance of the topic. Schmidt and Githens (2010) reported that some reviewers for their preconference felt the topic was extremely important, however, one reviewer wondered whether it was a topic the organization wanted to promote and others questioned the importance of the topic in general. The session went on to become the highest-attended preconference held that year. Feedback from participants of the 2008 LGBT preconference demonstrated a demand for guidelines on evidence-based practice on LGBT issues in HRD. The purpose of this paper is to examine the literature in human resource development and adult education to determine what work has been done related to HRD, identify the topics which were covered, types of papers published, and research methods used and use this information to create a research agenda to address the intersection of LGBT issues and HRD. To do this, we searched the literature asking these questions: What types of articles are published (e.g., conceptual, literature reviews, empirical studies) and what methods are used? To what extent does the literature address the concerns of LGBT people? Do the articles published provide an adequate foundation for future research? What topics, trends, issues should form future research agendas? This review includes research from the fields of adult education and human resource development because of the close-knit and overlapping relationship between the two disciplines. Three of the four authors of this paper are in both fields, some graduate programs house programs of study in both fields, and some HRD programs grew from adult education programs. The search of the adult education literature begins in 1994 just before the first article by Hill (1995) was published on LGBT issues. Work on this topic in adult education spawned the work in HRD where the first article was published by Gedro, Cervero, & Johnson-Bailey (2002). The search of HRD literature begins in 2001 just before that first article appeared in Human Resource Development International. This review is organized as follows: A conceptual framework for diversity and LGBT inclusion will be presented followed by article analysis by content and by research approaches employed. Summary tables regarding article content and research approaches are then presented. Content-related and research approach-related themes will be discussed, followed by a discussion of gaps in current research and recommendations for future research.


In K. M. Dirani (Ed.), published in Conference Proceedings