Study Shows LGBT Women Still Face Job Discrimination

We all like to think that when interviewing for a position, the candidate with the best qualifications will be the one to win the job. Unfortunately, a recent study published in the open-access journal Socius has found that, if you’re a queer woman, that just might not be the case.

Emma Mishel, a doctoral student at New York University, created a pair of nearly identical test resumes to submit for more than 800 administrative, clerical and secretarial job openings across several different states. The made-up candidates had similar qualifications for each position, but each time Mishel sent out an application, she would randomly select one of the two resumes and add experience at an LGBT organization to the document. The other candidate would be listed as involved in a more general progressive organization.

Now, it’s impossible to know exactly what employers were thinking when they looked at the two resumes — the simple involvement in an LGBT rights group wouldn’t tell the candidate’s sexual orientation or gender identity. But it seems reasonable that employers would consider the possibility that candidate might be LGBT. For the purposes of the study, Mishel identified these women as “queer,” which she uses as an umbrella term. (It’s worth nothing that while this is a controversial word for many who grew up hearing it as an insult, it’s been embraced by others and is commonly used in academia.)

So what were the results? Mishel found that the “straight” applicant was 29 percent more likely to be called back to set up a job interview than the “queer” applicant. This held true no matter which fictional applicant was assigned the queer role — listing participating in an LGBT organization hurt an applicant’s chances across the board. What’s especially interesting is that this doesn’t appear to merely be a matter of liberal versus conservative politics, since the straight applicant in every case was listed as being active in progressive circles.

What’s especially troubling about this study is the rates of discrimination didn’t vary much by location. More LGBT-friendly cities like Washington D.C. and New York City had the same results as red states like Tennessee and Virginia. This was especially galling in the case of D.C., where it’s actually illegal to discriminate against candidates based on their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.

This study is an important reminder that even though we’ve won the battle for marriage equality, there’s still much work to be done in the fight for LGBT rights in the U.S. Even if the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act is finally passed, those protections mean nothing if policies aren’t not enforced on the local level.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to spot hiring discrimination against minorities on an individual level — a company might decline to call a candidate back for a number of different reasons. But resume tests like Mishel’s make it possible to measure the existing bias against LGBT and other minority applicants, and potentially even identify offenders who are routinely discriminating against certain groups.

In fact, the Washington D.C Office of Human Rights recently conducted its own version of the resume test to assess local discrimination against transgender applicants. The office used their results to successfully crack down on five different businesses who were refusing to interview trans candidates. Officials were actually able to take proactive steps without waiting for a complaint to be submitted by a job-seeker.

The organization Freedom to Work also used a resume test in 2013 to demonstrate that Exxon Mobil was discriminating against gay applicants in Illinois — and the evidence was so convincing that the Illinois Department of Human Rights decided to take on the case. The case is still pending, but simply the fact that the results of the test were concerning to state officials is a promising step.

So what’s the takeaway for queer job seekers (or straight allies who want to showcase their volunteer work)? It depends. If you’re desperate for work, removing hints of your sexual orientation from your resume might provide the needed boost to finally land an interview. No one would blame you for trying to make your resume more attractive to potential employers.

But if you don’t need a new job immediately, consider this: Do you really want to work for a company that goes out of its way to discriminate against people like you? Do you really want to risk getting fired or treated poorly if you decide to come out at work? If you suspect you’ve been overlooked for a position because you’re LGBT, you may have just dodged a major bullet.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

william Miller
william Miller2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Karen C.
Karen C3 years ago

Caring about one's sexual orientation over their talents is not right

Donna T.
Donna T3 years ago

Thank you.

Frank R.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Mark Vaughan
Mark Vaughan3 years ago

This can't stand. If we allow anyone to be discriminated against, then it is open season on all people to be discriminated against.

Cela V.
Cela V3 years ago


Mari 's
Mari 's3 years ago

You have to stay in the closet and leave your personal life out of your work life. This I have learned because if their never ending witch hunts