What a researcher learned after sending out resumes with ‘LGBT indicators’

Emma Mishel

Job hunting is an already stressful process but LGBT women face an additional hurdle, according to new research. Women might be less likely to be called back for a job interview if their resume indicates that they’re LGBT, a study published this week found.

After sending out 1,600 resumes to apply for more than 800 jobs, the study found that women with an “LGBT indicator” on their resume (represented in the study as work experience at an LGBT advocacy group) were about 30% less likely to receive a call-back than women who didn’t have those indicators.

Researcher Emma Mishel, a doctoral student in sociology at NYU, said the study came from a personal place for her, being a queer woman herself with a resume that reflects her work as an LGBT advocate. “When you look at my work history it’s a lot of LGBT organizations, so its pretty obvious that I’m queer,” Mishel told me. “And so I’ve always wondered if that is an issue when I apply to certain jobs.”

The study, Discrimination Against Queer Women in the U.S. Workforce: A Resume Audit Study, published in the journal Socius, is the first to try to objectively measure employment discrimination against LGBT women in America. It included jobs for administrative, clerical, and secretarial positions across two liberal states (New York and D.C.) and two conservative states (Tennessee and Virginia). For each job, Mishel used resumes that listed similarly-ranked universities and work histories, but with a different position listed under student work experience: either an LGBT advocacy group or an unrelated student group.

“I mean I was hoping to not find any evidence of discrimination so it is pretty shocking. Especially the thirty percent figure is pretty shocking to me,” she said. “But I think it’s not that surprising if I think about past research.”

Mishel pointed to a study conducted in 2011 that found that gay men are 40% less likely to be called back for an interview than straight men who have similar qualifications. She said it’s hard to track when people are being discriminated against in individual cases because no one will openly tell a candidate that they’re not being interviewed because they’re LGBT.

Despite the more progressive states having anti-discrimination laws in place, Mishel’s study still found similar rates of discrimination against the LGBT resumes in New York and D.C. But she says that having a national law in place that protects LGBT people in employment situations is still an important step. There is currently no comprehensive legislation that specifically protects gay and trans people from being discriminated against in applying for job.

In 2013, the Senate passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which in theory would guarantee protection against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but was blocked in its turn in the House. Last year, the Equality Act was introduced in Congress. If it’s passed, it would provide even more wide-ranging protections for LGBT Americans than ENDA, covering areas like housing and education in addition to employment.

But the other aspect of this, Mishel said, is that many workplaces in America don’t have cultural competency training or resource groups for LGBT employees. Both help educate people about LGBT rights and could help create a better environment for both employees and people applying for jobs. That still might not get to the heart of the problem Mishel’s study uncovered because, she said, it comes down to individual hiring managers and recruiters making decisions based on their own identities.

“Research has shown that hiring managers like to hire people who look like them on paper. So that if there’s a resume that looks pretty similar to their employment history or their career path they’re more likely to like that person and ultimately hire them,” she said. “If you’re looking at it that way, and only 3.5% of the population is LGBT, chances of finding a hiring manager who’s also LGBT is pretty low.”

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