Discrimination against Queer Women in the U.S. Workforce: A Resume Audit Study
Based on fictitious resumes, LGBTQ women received fewer invitations to interview than perceived heterosexual women when applying online to jobs in several states.
As of 2016, it remains legal for employers to discriminate in hiring, compensation, and promotion on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation in 28 states and gender identity in 30 states. However, little is known about the real extent of employment discrimination against LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) women, used interchangeably by the author with the term “queer”. A standard way of investigating hiring discrimination is the audit method, which compares treatment of two fictitious candidates who are matched on all but one characteristic, such as sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, an audit study found that women’s resumes indicating motherhood were less likely than those perceived as childless to receive job callbacks. This large-scale audit study tested hiring discrimination against LGBTQ women in four socio-politically varied U.S. regions. The study used a pair of fictitious resumes with similar qualifications to apply for jobs posted on websites including Craigslist, Monster, and Idealist. For each posting, the author randomly assigned an indicator of LGBTQ status to one resume but not the other, submitted both, and compared employer responses.
- Resumes with the LGBT indicator had an employer response rate of 12% while resumes without the indicator had a response rate of 17%. In other words, employers were about 30% less likely to request an interview or further information from a woman perceived as LGBTQ compared to one perceived as heterosexual.
- This low rate of response persisted even after adjusting for whether the job was located in an urban area, whether the job listing was from a staffing agency, whether it was a confidential posting, the job board source, and the applicant (resume A vs. B).
- Employers were significantly less likely to respond to a resume with the LGBTQ indicator than a control resume in New York (15% vs. 21%) and in Washington, D.C. (13% vs. 20%), which have laws against workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, and in Tennessee (10% vs. 17%), which does not.
- Employers were equally likely to respond to a resume with or without the LGBTQ indicator in Virginia (9% and 10%, with slightly more responses to the LGBT resume), which does not have laws against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In short, the study found evidence of hiring discrimination against LGBTQ women relative to perceived heterosexual women in three of four regions, with no relationship to whether or not the state had existing legal antidiscrimination laws or protections.
The audit study used a pair of fictitious resumes, one with an LGBTQ indicator, to apply to 775 administrative job postings online (1,550 applications). For each application, the study tracked employer responses requesting an interview or more information by email or voicemail. Both resumes used common white female names (“Sarah” and “Ashley”) and showed a university degree (from Columbia or Cornell, which were similarly ranked), high grade point averages, study abroad, and a few years of relevant experience. For each job posting, one resume was randomly assigned to signal LGBTQ status through a secretarial position at an LGBTQ student organization, listed under experience and described using the phrase “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” The other resume served as a control, listing a secretarial position with a progressive, non-LGBTQ student organization. Paired resumes were submitted to the same job postings within two business days of each other, in randomized order. The postings were taken from all administrative, clerical, or secretarial openings ranging from large, national organizations to small, local businesses on job recruitment websites such as Craigslist, Monster, CareerBuilder, The Washington Post, and Idealist in spring 2014. The four regions selected represented liberal-leaning areas with anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ employees (New York and Washington, D.C.) and conservative-leaning areas without such laws (Tennessee and Virginia). Postings that sent spam responses or closed before two resumes could be submitted were excluded.