The independent news organization of Duke University

Pink resume, mauve glass ceiling

If you are gay, when you apply for jobs, should you let it show on your resume or should you hide it? What if your main leadership activities at Duke have been with a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender group? What if you are earning a certificate in sexuality studies?

A recent study—in broad strokes—says if you want the job, then no, you shouldn’t.

In what has been dubbed the first major audit study to test the receptiveness of employers to gay male job applicants, Harvard researcher András Tilcsik suggests that men who identify as gay on their resumes have less success in getting selected for job interviews.

The study, in which Tilcsik sent two resumes—one “gay” and one not necessarily gay—to nearly two thousand employers, found that while ostensibly heterosexual applicants had a 11.5 percent chance of being invited for an interview, equally qualified gay applicants only had a 7.2 percent chance of receiving a positive response. This is a difference of 4.3 percentage points, or about 40 percent.

Admittedly, the study only focused on gay men, but extrapolates the discrimination to other LGBT-identified people. Further research is needed.

This research suggests you won’t get an interview if you’re openly gay. That might be true. But instead of allowing this claim to pressure LGBT people to hide legitimate gay markers on their resumes, it should encourage us to dig deeper and conduct more thorough research into these companies and organizations we think we want to work for.

Coming out is just one way of politicizing yourself as an applicant. Some companies will be turned off by other groups or activities you list on your college resume—there is simply no way to present a perfectly tailored resume to each company—nor would anyone necessarily want to as it could lead to working in relatively miserable conditions.

Another recent study, “The Power of Out,” has shown that “for gay and lesbian employees... a climate that fosters inclusiveness and openness is critical both to the longevity of their tenures and their ability to perform well on the job.”

Consider the following findings:

- The loneliness of the closet at work: Those who are not out at work are 75 percent more likely to feel isolated than those who are out;

- How you feel about your career: Only 34 percent of closeted gay men feel satisfied with their rate of promotion versus 61 percent of those who are out. And closeted LGBTs are 73 percent more likely to say they intend to leave their companies within three years than those who are out.

The pressure is mounting on companies to understand these dynamics. More and more, successful firms are realizing the value of having open, LGBT-friendly environments. We’re at a point now where for major corporations in the United States, being LGBT-friendly is the politically and strategically correct thing to do.

So how do you know?

The HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) is a good place to start your research, but it is an imperfect buyer’s guide. For example, in 2011, it listed 337 businesses as achieving 100 percent corporate equality, up from 305 in 2010. However, though the CEI is a good tool, if you are taking into account a company’s broad treatment of LGBT people, it ought not be your only resource.

Consider the fact that while Target had a 100 percent CEI ranking last year, the corporation made substantial political donations to anti-LGBT candidates in state elections. The HRC threatened to reduce Target from 100 percent “not for the donation itself, but for failing to respond to significant community concerns.” In short, the CEI has no mechanism for dealing with corporate political donations or a number of other phenomena that could indicate the work conditions for LGBT people. As such it offers only a narrow window into the work environment at that company.

Thus when companies point to rankings such as the CEI as proof of their openness, it is important for us to question them, to dig deeper, to think hard about the reality of the work life for LGBT people. For example, one could certainly ask: how many of these 100 percent-ranked companies have openly gay senior executives? (Hint: zero.)

If studies tell us that openness at work is a good thing, but outing oneself on a resume could jeopardize even getting the job, this puts college students in a particularly tough position. Furthermore, if the metrics we have in place to judge companies are limited, where does that leave the LGBT job-seeking college student? And if we’re told to be out, but don’t see many out people at the top tier of companies, we get a mixed message.

You as a student have to calculate these risks and decide how your identity is going to play in your professional life. This will not be the last time you do this, and you don’t have to do it alone.

There is virtue both in being out in the workplace from day one and in changing the system from the inside. No one can tell you how or when to come out, but it is crucial to not discount the importance of a LGBT-friendly work environment to making you comfortable and ultimately successful.

There is no formula for coming out—in any part of anyone’s life. There are, however, several important considerations for LGBT people when making the decision whether or not to queer a resume:

-You are going to have coming out opportunities for the rest of your life. You will need to correct assumptions about your gender, your sexual orientation, your partner’s gender, your preferred pronouns, your relationships and your life.

-A number of companies in the Fortune 500 have LGBT-identified outreach recruiting programs. What’s usually lacking? Out students applying.

As we write today, we can think of several instances in our lives when coming out not only felt like the right personal decision but had a profound effect on LGBT people around us. And as out alumni of this magnificent University, we encourage you to explore these questions of professionalism, identity and expression by engaging with the resources on campus and off.

Networks of supportive people are important for everyone. But for LGBT-identified students looking for employment, it can be especially important to reach out and learn about the landscape.

Do thorough research on the company or organization you’re applying to. And for support or advice, there is always the LGBT Network—a group of alumni who have navigated, and continue to navigate, these questions in a variety of industries.

There is still a long way to go. In a majority of states in our country, it is perfectly legal to get fired just because you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Businesses in all sectors are making progress, and our being out at work can help further that progress. Starting the process, however, is not as simple as it might seem.

Todd Sears, Trinity ’98, is a member of the board of the Duke LGBT Network. He has years of experience in corporate diversity, and is currently a principal at Coda, LLC, a strategic diversity consultancy.

Kyle Knight, Trinity ’08, is the president of the Duke LGBT Network. He is a Fulbright Scholar in Nepal where he researches the sexual and gender minority rights movement.


Share and discuss “Pink resume, mauve glass ceiling” on social media.