A new study finds that similarly qualified queer women receive significantly fewer callbacks than their straight peers when applying for jobs.
Emma Mishel, a doctoral student in the sociology program at New York University, conducted the study by generating a pair of test résumés, which she submitted to more than 800 administrative, clerical, and secretarial job openings in New York City, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, and Virginia. The résumés were similarly qualified, and for each application, she would flip a coin to randomize whether the Cornell University grad or the Columbia University grad had experience as a leader in her school’s LGBT student organization or just a general progressive organization.
Because the indicator was an LGBT organization, Mishel refers to “queer women” throughout the study, because the applicants might have been perceived as any variation of LGBT identity. In a footnote, she explains that “queer” has become “an umbrella term for anyone identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.”
The study found that the applicant who did not have an LGBT indicator was 29 percent more likely to be contacted for a interview than the applicant who did:
Mishel noted that employers did seem to prefer one of the applicants more than the other independent of the queer variable, but even still, the queer version of each received significantly fewer callbacks.
By applying to jobs in different locations, Mishel hoped to assess what impact LGBT employment protections may have played in the results. Interestingly, though callback rates were lower in general for Tennessee and Virginia (perhaps because the applicant’s home address was in New York), rates of discrimination did not actually vary across the locations. Thus, the study suggests that having protections does not directly lower the amount of discrimination that takes place.
That’s not necessarily a knock against the protections. Discrimination at the hiring level is often invisible to applicants. Thus, even where enforcement mechanisms exist to report discrimination, the discrimination isn’t apparent enough to warrant filing a complaint. Mishel’s study is one of only very few in academic literature that uses a résumé audit to assess rates of discrimination, but they are beginning to emerge as an important tool for combating discrimination.
For example, the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights recently conducted a résumé test to assess discrimination specifically against transgender applicants. Because D.C. does protect against job discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the office was actually able to use the results to take enforcement actions against five of the businesses. This proactive approach allowed the city to identify discrimination without waiting for a complainant to experience it.
Similarly, the organization Freedom To Work used a résumé test to demonstrate that Exxon Mobil was engaging in anti-gay discrimination, filing a complaint against the company in Illinois in 2013. Last year, the Illinois Department of Human Rights found “substantial evidence” of the hiring discrimination, and the case is still pending before the state’s Human Rights Commission.
Mishel asserts that her study “found clear evidence of discrimination against queer women who apply to administrative jobs in the United States compared with straight women of equal qualifications.” Calling such audit studies the “gold standard” in identifying discrimination, she suggests that “it would be beneficial if audit experiments such as this were conducted on a more regular basis to keep up with the fast pace at which the public’s opinion is changing in support of LGBT rights and in the changing perceptions of the LGBT community.”