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Doctoral research investigates workplace experiences of queer and transgender employees

Dr Lungile Ntombela’s research revealed that despite SA’s progressive anti-discriminatory framework, sexuality and gender “non-normative” employees continue to experience discrimination in the workplace.

Dr Lungile Ntombela’s research revealed that despite SA’s progressive anti-discriminatory framework, sexuality and gender “non-normative” employees continue to experience discrimination in the workplace.

Published Dec 2, 2021

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By Thandiwe Jumo

The role of legislation and workplace policies in shaping the workplace experiences of sexuality and gender “non-normative” employees in corporate workplaces in KwaZulu-Natal was examined in research that secured UKZN academic, Dr Lungile Ntombela a PhD.

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“Traditional diversity management in the field of Human Resource Management is often characterised by work that is based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability and age,” said Dr Ntombela. “This is partly because of systematic ordering due to the legacy of apartheid in South Africa. Such forms of diversity are ‘visible’ attributes.”

She explained that her research examined attributes considered “invisible” - where the difference may not be easily recognisable socially.

“My research into the workplace experiences of sexuality and gender ‘non-normative’ employees contributes towards addressing the dearth in literature on the subject in South Africa, and provides reasons why sexuality and gender “non-normative” employees experience corporate workplaces the way that they do.”

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The study’s findings revealed that despite South Africa’s progressive anti-discriminatory framework, sexuality and gender “non-normative” employees continue to experience various forms of discrimination. “Such discrimination was found to be covert and include verbal intentional or unintentional micro-aggressions. The study’s findings also dispute the notion that organisations are asexual spaces where sexuality doesn’t exist. “In fact, gender and sexuality are produced as well as mediated within the workplace. The controlling and policing of gender expression and sexuality explicitly and implicitly classify heterosexuality as a “normal” sexual identity, and therefore keep heteronormativity in check.”

Pursuing a PhD has been a rewarding experience for Ntombela. In 2019, she spent the semester at Columbia University in New York through UKZN’s Staff Development Programme (USDP), which aims to transform the academic sector through the accelerated development and promotion of emerging academics.

“I learned valuable skills at Columbia, in both research and teaching, as well as enjoyed an opportunity to collaborate and network with colleagues and experts in my field.

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“I came back with great ideas that I have used in my study, teaching and other academic endeavours. I would like to continue to collaborate with scholars in other fields to uncover greater depth of knowledge on issues of sexuality to prove that such work is multidisciplinary, credible and important.”

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