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Feb 14, 2023

More than 80% of nonbinary people say that identifying as such would hurt their job search. And indeed, they have reason to be concerned, according to new findings by The study found that individuals with resumes containing “they/them” pronouns were less likely to receive interviews.

Such findings do not bode well for the approximately 1.2 million LGBTQ+ adults who identify as gender nonbinary. As one such person commented as part of the research, “I live in Florida, and coming out as nonbinary could cost me future job opportunities.”

Says another study subject: “People have complained about ‘the gay agenda’ to me. This is why I am hesitant to openly identify as nonbinary. It jeopardizes my personal safety to be out. I wish it didn’t.”

On the other hand, some individuals view disclosing their nonbinary identity as a means to identify inclusive employers. “I am currently a student on a very accepting campus, so my on-campus jobs have not been affected by my gender identity,” a 20-year-old student shared in the study. “After I graduate, I think I should include my pronouns as early as possible so that I can see how potential employers react.”

Still, only 8% of people who identify as nonbinary say that their identity has very or somewhat positively affected their work experience. Meanwhile, 51% say it has very or somewhat negatively impacted their general work experience.

“I’m not surprised by this data,” says Kat Kibben, founder of Three Ears Media, a recruitment marketing firm. “We live in a world where there’s still a massive education gap regarding pronouns from the classroom to the boardroom perpetuated by negative media cycles.”

What’s more, the research explains that “nonbinary workers who were assigned female at birth were likelier to report negative work experiences than their counterparts who were assigned male at birth. The individuals who present as women or were socialized as girls during childhood may encounter dual discrimination because of their intersectional identities. The same can be said for nonbinary workers of color and those with disabilities.”

It’s also worth noting that over 64% of companies in the report were Equal Opportunity Employers (EEO), which means that they pledge not to discriminate in the hiring process based on federally protected classes, including sex. (More than two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that sex discrimination includes LGBTQ individuals.)

Honing in on Hiring Managers’s findings further show that much of the problem lies in the sentiments of hiring managers. Compared to resumes without any pronouns, researchers discovered that hiring managers felt that applicants with nonbinary pronouns were 7% less qualified for jobs. Among the comments by hiring managers about resumes with “they/them pronouns” were:

  • “This person seems like a decent fit on paper, though I am not interested in the drama that a person who thinks they are a ‘they/them’ brings with them.”
  • “Take off the pronouns; I would trash the resume for that reason alone.”
  • “I find that personal pronouns are quite silly in a job situation. This is better reserved for social settings and not in a job setting.”

“Hiring managers who make decisions based on pronouns are not educated on the fact that gender doesn’t influence work performance,” Kibben states. “They are scared it will have negative repercussions on them if they don’t use the correct pronouns and rather than pursuing education, they are applying bias. This is nothing new in the hiring process. Look at the research on job applicants with black names. Managers are using names and other indicators on resumes to make decisions about the people they want to work with instead of the people that are qualified. Pronouns may be a new subject to managers but bias isn’t a new topic for the candidates on the other side.”

Thus, as the study concludes, “Despite increased legal protections and growing cultural representation of gender minorities, there is still much to be done to ensuring fair and equal treatment in the workplace.”

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