Countering heteronormativity: Exploring the negotiation of butch lesbian identity in the organisational setting

Helen Woodruffe-Burton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which butch lesbians manage and negotiate their sexual identity in the workplace. Design/methodology/approach – A qualitative study using online ethnographical enquiry to explore lesbians' experiences of performing butch identity in the workplace. Ethical and other issues relating to online ethnographic research are also explored and discussed. Findings – Identity negotiation is a key issue and lesbians face the constant pressure of identity management. This is not simply a personal perspective but a defence mechanism to counter the heteronormative culture within organisations. Strategies for dealing with these tensions evident in the literature and reflected in this study range from “passing” (passing as a heterosexual) to defying expectations of heteronormativity and remaining constant to individual butch identity. Practical implications – The paper can assist HRD professionals and leaders in developing organisation cultures which embrace and include difference and help obviate oppression. It may also be of interest to researchers and policy makers in the fields of diversity and equality and LGB issues. Social implications – The findings here will be of interest to social audiences including LGBT individuals, activist groups and support groups. Wider understanding of female masculinity and butch identity may help leverage greater tolerance and acceptance. Originality/value – This study responds to calls for more LGBT research in the workplace and organisational context. The findings develop the understanding of identity negotiation in conditions of heteronormativity. It is also argued that this study of the experiences of lesbians in the workplace is positioned as an alternative site of understanding organisations, with learning to offer gendered leadership.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-374
JournalGender in Management: An International Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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