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Could Your Gay CV Stop You Getting a Job?
DIVA Magazine

Could Your Gay CV Stop You Getting a Job?

Posted 28 July 2015   |   8905 views   |   Women's Interest   |   Comments (1) Recently this magazine posted a news story from their website divamag.co.uk to their Facebook page reporting on a study that found people who mentioned a prominent role in a university LGBT society on their CV were 5% less likely to be offered a job interview.

I was surprised that the majority of the comments weren’t concerned about the findings. Instead, they disagreed with the research based on their own positive experiences of job-seeking or hiring – with some describing the research as "scaremongering" – and suggested that this type of discrimination doesn’t exist. I find this incredibly worrying and wanted to clarify what the research actually did, and make the case for why this type of research isn’t scaremongering but really, really important.

The study was conducted by Dr. Nick Drydakis from Anglia Ruskin University. Drydakis recruited 144 third-year students from across the UK. Seventy-two of the students’ CVs mentioned a prominent role in their university’s LGBT society and the other 72 a role in a human rights organisation. Drydakis created 72 pairs of students, one LGBT, one non-LGBT, who were matched on skills, experience, age, gender, ethnicity, and academic grades. Cover letters and CVs were then checked by the HR department to make sure that one of the pair was not better than the other, regardless of LGBT association. The only difference between the pairs was whether they mentioned the LGBT society.

The students applied to 5549 different firms, with each firm receiving an application from a matched LGBT and non-LGBT student. Drydakis found that those who mentioned having a role in an LGBT society were 5% less likely to be offered a job interview than those who didn’t. He also found that LGBT students were offered interviews for jobs that paid less than the jobs non-LGBT applicants were offered interviews for. Additionally, LGBT CVs were less likely to be offered interviews for positions in which stereotypical masculine or feminine personality traits were highlighted in the job description.

Why am I so worried about the comments that were written below the news story? There are a few reasons. First, there’s some misunderstanding of what the study did. Some people asked "why you would mention your sexuality in a job interview?" If this was the case I’d agree that talking about your sexuality in an interview where it’s not relevant would be inappropriate. Other comments mentioned sexual orientation questions on equal opportunities forms that employers could use to discriminate. Dr. Drydakis didn’t look at interviews or equal opportunity forms. The only difference between the LGBT and non-LGBT applications was the role in an LGBT society. This is a really important point. None of the LGBT applicants explicitly revealed their sexuality in an interview or on an equal opportunities form. They simply noted that they had a prominent role in an LGBT society.
The reason that we do research is so that we can try and control for all other factors that might affect the outcome, so that we can determine whether one thing makes any difference. For this study, the ability, skills, experience, age, gender, ethnicity, and academic aptitude of the applicants were controlled by matching the CVs into pairs. By conducting the study in this way, the only difference between the two groups is the manipulation - the type of student society – so if there’s a difference between the groups’ results then it’s extremely likely that it’s caused by that manipulation. This research is really important because it suggests a very subtle type of discrimination that employers themselves may not even be aware of.
What’s particularly concerning is that students are actively encouraged to take roles in university societies and to put them on their CV. I teach 2nd year psychology students and only a few weeks ago we had a class on how to enhance their employability - one of the things stressed was this type of extra-curricular activity. If a student has put their time and effort into taking a role that requires leadership and organisational skills, why shouldn’t they put it on their CV? This research indicates it’s not quite as simple as that.

The second thing I found worrying was the number of people who felt that their own positive experience of being out whilst job-hunting means this type of discrimination doesn’t exist. There’s a saying, “the plural of anecdote is not data”, which basically means that  just because you know someone who smoked 40 cigarettes a day for 40 years and died peacefully in their bed at the age of 104 doesn’t mean that cigarettes aren’t bad for you. We can’t rely on personal stories to get a true picture of discrimination because they don’t control for all those other factors like age, skill and ability, and they’re not representative of the bigger picture. This study recruited participants from all across the UK and sent out applications to thousands of companies. A 5% reduction in interview offers translates to 1 out of 20. As an individual, it’s small enough that you’re unlikely to notice but when we apply that figure to the entire LGBT population, that’s thousands of interview offers that aren’t being made. Without these types of studies it’s very hard to know that discrimination is occurring at the level of interview offers. It’s easier to see when an interview panel is being homophobic, or if you get the job and suffer discrimination in the workplace, and the Equality Act (2010) is in place to protect us against this. But to notice the discrimination requires you to get a foot in the door.

Personally, I have never experienced discrimination because of my sexuality when it comes to job-hunting. I went to my interview at Aberdeen dressed like the lovechild of Bette and Shane, and got the job. I am out to all of my colleagues and my students, and six years later I have a PhD, a promotion and a permanent contract. But this is the great thing about well-conducted research: it doesn’t care about your personal experience. If it’s done well, it just reports the facts, and we need the facts.
The Equality Act (2010) means it’s illegal to refuse a job applicant on the basis of their sexuality. The act does not mean that discrimination doesn’t exist. Studies like the one by Dr. Drydakis allow us to see the bigger picture and ask questions. Are employers aware that they are discriminating against LGBT applicants? If they are, this is serious because it’s illegal. If they’re not, what can we do to reduce unconscious discrimination? When I asked Stonewall for their view, they told me:"These figures go to show that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are still far from equal in society. We’d argue that these organisations who do discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity are, perhaps deservedly, missing out. A diverse workforce can both boost innovation and, and can be more representative of your market and client or customer demographic." In other words, this type of research provides organisations like Stonewall with evidence that a problem exists or persists, and helps them to target their campaigns.

There’s a popular belief that companies have quotas for recruiting LGBT employees; this is simply not true. Organisations may have targets for a diverse workforce and try to provide an LGBT-friendly workplace, but discrimination laws work both ways: you can’t legally hire someone because they’re LGBT.

Finally, this research is important because, if you’re applying for the job in the UK, you should know this is a potential issue. Many people said they wouldn’t want to work for a company that would discriminate on the basis of sexuality. I agree. If I’d been asked in my interview why I was wearing a shirt and tie I would have responded “because I look fabulous” and walked out. But that would have been my informed decision because the discrimination would have been clear.
For some people, equality and the right to put your experience on your CV is worth not getting a job. For others, it’s not worth it, and that’s rightfully their decision. But in order to make that decision and enact positive change, we have to be objectively informed.

What do you think? Tell us at letters@divamag.co.uk

Dr Emily Nordmann is a Teaching Fellow in psychology at the University of Aberdeen

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DIVA is Europe’s best-selling and most influential lifestyle magazine for lesbian, bisexual and queer women. Our aim is simple – to bring you the latest trends and talent at the cutting edge of popular lesbian and bisexual culture. With so much going on, it’s no surprise that DIVA magazine is THE trusted source of information for lesbian and bisexual women the world over.

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