Many Americans believe that anti-LGBT employment discrimination is a thing of the past, but new research shows that even hinting about your LGBT identity on your resume could be enough to disqualify you.
The research, conducted by the Equal Rights Center and Freedom to Work, began as a response to concerns that federal contractors around the country may be (legally) discriminating against people on grounds of their LGBT identity. Currently there is no federal law expressly barring LGBTs from being discriminated against in the workplace, and while the Obama administration has made clear that the Civil Rights Act covers trans workers, there are many states that lack similar protections and people are often left vulnerable.
The Equal Rights Center and Freedom to Work investigation targeted eight federal contractors, including AmerisourceBergen Corp., the Babcock & Wilcox Co., Fluor Corp., General Electric Co., L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., Supreme Group Holding SARL, URS Corp., and ExxonMobil. All except ExxonMobil were chosen because they lack explicit LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, while ExxonMobil was selected for its board repeatedly defeating an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy.
To assess the fairness of selection criteria, the organizations behind the study created fictional pairs of resumes and began applying for jobs at each of the companies. The research involved 100 job applications over the course of one year. Each pair of resumes had one that mentioned a leadership role for an LGBT organization, while the other listed a leadership role for a different cause, like women’s rights or environmentalism. Lastly, the LGBT resume was designed to be stronger in a number of key areas, like suitable experience for the position and a skill-set that matched what was required on the job, which should have meant that, at the very least, the LGBT candidate would be more likely to get a call for an interview.
What the researchers found was that the fictional LGBT candidates were 23 percent less likely to be called back for an interview than their less qualified counterparts. Perhaps most staggeringly of all, ExxonMobil never responded to the clearly more qualified LGBT candidate yet attempted to call the less qualified non-LGBT candidate twice, before sending her an email saying that the position would be held open for a number of weeks so that she could interview for the job.
The study is interesting because, had the resumes not listed a leadership role to do with LGBT rights, we might have concluded that it wasn’t the prospective candidate being LGBT that put off the employer but the possibility of an employee who would bring their political life into the workplace. We can understand why, in a diverse workplace, an employer might have reservations even if we don’t agree with them on this point. However, the study controlled for that by ensuring that all resumes listed a leadership role with some kind of advocacy organization.
So what conclusions can we draw from this? It’s important to put the study in perspective. The sample size is relatively small, though arguably still statistically significant. That’s a drawback but doesn’t necessarily invalidate these findings. There may be other reasons why the LGBT candidate didn’t get a callback though. For instance, it could be that some employers did not call the LGBT applicant because, given her glowing qualifications, perhaps they thought she was overqualified for the position. That might sound like a stretch but this and other variables introduce an element of doubt that means we can’t be too hasty to draw conclusions. Given, however, that we know anti-LGBT discrimination is still a problem in the workplace today, we can at least say that this research is concerning. What’s more, 23 percent is a big discrepancy for which to account and the benefit of the doubt only stretches so far.
Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT organization Freedom to Work believes that it amounts to taxpayers having to subsidize (through those federal contracts) anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. She hails the fact that President Obama, after much stalling, has decided to sign an executive order to ban federal contractors from discriminating against employees on grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“President Obama’s upcoming executive order will send a strong message that government contracts should be staffed with the highest qualified job candidates, and nobody should ever lose out on a career opportunity just because of who they are or whom they love,” Almeida goes on to say. “President Obama’s executive action to protect LGBT workers confirms that he has advanced fairness for LGBT Americans more than all of his predecessors combined.”
The executive order’s reach will be limited, covering nearly 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, but that is a sizable first step. Congress must act to pass legislation like the Employment Non Discrimination Act to fill the gap, and hopefully without unnecessary religious exemptions. The current House leadership is refusing to do so, and Speaker Boehner is instead working to bring legislation to the floor that would allow the House to sue President Obama for what Boehner says is the President’s continued abuse of executive power. Speaker Boehner has yet to detail any concrete examples, but we can expect the LGBT nondiscrimination order and the other order Obama recently announced to further protect trans people, to feature prominently.
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