Harvard researcher András Tilcsik wanted to know if employers discriminated against gay applicants, so he and his colleagues sent out two sets of fake résumés for 1,769 office or managerial job openings in seven states. One version of the résumé suggested that the applicant was gay. The other did not. Otherwise, they were all but identical. The results? The gay "applicant" was 40 percent less likely to get called in for an interview. The study, the first of its kind, appears in The American Journal of Sociology. Here's what you should know:
How did Tilcsik indicate that one applicant was gay?
The "gay" résumé listed a stint as treasurer of a collegiate gay organization. To separate any "gay penalty" from general anti-liberal political bias on the employers' part, Tilcsik listed involvement with a "progressive and socialist alliance" on the other set of résumés in place of the gay group. The apparently heterosexual lefty was contacted 11.5 percent of the time; the gay treasurer was called back only 7.2 percent of the time — a 40 percent hit.
What's behind this double standard?
Geography played a pretty big role. Callback rates for the two résumés differed widely in Southern and Midwestern states — Texas, Florida, and Ohio — but were more equal in Western and Northeastern states: California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and New York. "This doesn't necessarily mean that there is no discrimination in those states," Tilcsik says. "What this does show is that discrimination in white-collar employment is substantially stronger for the Southern and Midwestern states in the sample."
Is there more to it than regional bias?
Yes. The study also found that, across the board, the gay applicant was less likely to get a nibble for jobs requiring "assertive," "aggressive," or "decisive" behavior. That suggests that the discrimination "is partly rooted in specific stereotypes and cannot be completely reduced to a general antipathy against gay employees," Tilcsik says.
Does this mean gay job-seekers should scrub their résumés?
Not necessarily. But the study does suggest that it's tough being "a proud gay man looking for a white-collar job in America," says Jonathan Higbee in Instinct. Maybe gay men "need a bit of affirmative action." Besides, given the ubiquitous use of social media by prospective employers and head-hunters, "being out and proud on a candidate's Facebook profile" could negate any attempt to remove gay references from your résumé. Maybe this double standard is actually a "blessing in disguise," says Daniel Villarreal at Queerty. Being preemptively rejected might at least protect gays from entering "a homophobic work environment."