Content warning: Homophobia/LGBTQ+ discrimination in workplaces
The job search process can be emotionally and physically draining for anyone, but for those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, it may present its own unique challenges. Employers may or may not be legally allowed to discriminate against potential employees based on their gender or sexuality. Non-discrimination laws allow varying levels of protection depending upon which state you reside in.
Check out this image from http://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/non_discrimination_laws for maps on discrimination laws in various states:
So how does one decide whether or not to be open about their gender/sexuality during the job search and interview process? It can depend on their circumstances and personal comfort. Some people struggle with whether or not to discuss LGBTQ+ clubs or scholarships on their resumes. This again depends on one’s comfort and relative sense of personal safety. Another platform to consider when job searching is social media, as employers will often research a candidate online before hiring them.
Three Beloit Alumni were eager to share their experiences negotiating their careers and their identities. They shared how their identities affected their career trajectories to varying degrees.
Not everyone feels the need to come out at work or during the job search process, but to others, having their identity be well received can be a priority. This may require some background research on potential employers. One alumni who graduated in 2010 and prefers to remain anonymous, described her approach to the job hunt:
[I conduct] online research about the company, who the board members are (if any), who they cater to, and reviews. I try to read every review I can get my hands on, both from current and former employees and from clients/members/outside personalities. I look at pictures on social media, if they have any sort of presence online […] I also pointedly reach out to my friends, and try to apply where I know other people like me work.
Olivia Kline, ’16 also shared how she gauged how her LGBT+ identity would be received.
It’s really hard to tell during the application and interview process. Really, I wasn’t sure until I started working on site, and even then it took a few weeks to feel completely comfortable at my job. It seems like a scary thing to bring up when you don’t actually have the job yet.
These fears are not without cause. According to The Williams Institute, 8-17% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were “unfairly fired or denied hiring.” This number is much higher for transgender people at 13-47%.
Another factor to consider when conducting a job search is online image. Job recruiters will look at prospective employee’s activity online so some people chose to adjust their online use accordingly. For people who don’t plan to come out at work, they may make posts referring to their identity private or hide their relationship status.For their online presence, each alumni uses social media differently. One alumni keeps their online presence very scarce:
I try to keep everything locked down as much as possible[…] I am cautious about who at work I connect with online, vetting who is most trustworthy and thoughtful about my privacy. I also don’t want my clients to be able to search for me. […] I’m also very out and proud in my online communities.
Alum Olivia Kline also uses an approach of strategic caution.
I’ve always been sort of guarded online. I don’t post much on Facebook or have any other social media. I’ve sort of taken the philosophy that I’m not going to broadcast my sexuality, but I’m also not going to hide it, which can be a hard thing to balance.
Alice Mitchell ’13 takes a more open approach online. She says, “I’ve never changed the way I speak online based on who I’m friends with from work. If they don’t want to listen to me, then they can deal with that themselves. Not my problem.”
Once hired in the workplace, having a marginalized sexuality or gender can still affect a person’s standing in the workplace. Some people, such as Olivia, find a very warm, welcoming environment. As she noted in our interview, how her colleagues respond to her identity ultimately affects how she evaluates her workplace.
It has made me value the work environment, sometimes more than the job itself. Even if I managed to find my dream job, I wouldn’t be happy there if my boss/coworkers were homophobic. I’ve really lucked out on my current job, because I like the work and the people I work with are very open-minded and welcoming. But I think when I look for future jobs, I will try really hard to find one with good people.
Not everyone has as friendly and understanding a work environment and may not feel comfortable coming out at work. This is understandable when the Human Rights Campaign Foundation says 62% of “LGBT people […] have heard jokes or derogatory comments.” They also put the number of “transgender and gender-nonconforming people who experience harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job” at 78%.
Even in places where coworkers may be allies, they may not be the only people an employee may have to work with. Two of the alumni pointed out the precarious situation of having a job that entails customer service. Alice shared her feelings on being out at work as well.
I do sometimes feel the need to hide my queer identity at work. Sometimes from coworkers who I know didn’t support same-sex marriage, but mostly from patrons. I never deliberately hid that part of my identity from anyone, but I rarely actively talked about it, because it wasn’t relevant to work. After the Orlando shooting, however, I started wearing a Pride button on my badge lanyard where everyone can see it. I know patrons notice it sometimes, and I’m worried about the day that one of them objects to me working with their children because of it.
This concern for customer’s perception was echoed by an anonymous alumni, who worried that negative reactions would impact her work performance.
Between my politics and my sexual identity, I have to make sure I don’t offend or anger my clients simply by mentioning that I am married to a woman. My job is dependent on the number of sales I do, and if my clients won’t work with me because who I am rather than how I do my job, I won’t have a job to worry about. Not to say that I don’t think my company won’t back me up if push came to shove, but I don’t really want to test it.
When it came to offering soon-to-be-graduates advice, the alums each had something to say. The anonymous alumni encouraged taking the time to research companies and workplaces before applying. “Remember, you will spend a very large chunk of your life at work. It is important that you are prepared and comfortable with your work-life. So take the time to find the right place for you.” Olivia suggested relying on friends to make the job search process less intimidating.
Job hunting can be scary and frustrating, so I would advise building a support group if you can. During senior year, my friends and I would have application parties where we’d all get a pizza and work on finding and applying [for] jobs. It helped relieve the stress and make it all a little less overwhelming. I would also say that you are going to be a recent graduate and it’s ok if your first or second or third job are just jobs. You don’t have to start out on your career right away. Explore, find coworkers you like, find out what you like to do, and go from there.
(This advice echoes the Job Squad program at LAPC. Through Job Squads LAPC will reimburse up to 7 dollars to students who order food and apply to jobs or work on grad school applications together. To schedule a Job Squad contact Jessica Fox Wilson, Director of Career Development. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, Alice recommended prioritizing goals and considering safety.
Think about your personal priorities and the career you’re pursuing, what you can be flexible with, and your safety. Find your friends and allies, because they can make a difficult workplace tolerable.
If having an inclusive workplace is crucial to you, make it a priority. My job search was informed by which areas were or were not liberal before being employed became my priority. But my physical safety wasn’t necessarily at risk. Live somewhere and work somewhere that doesn’t put a physical or psychological strain on you because of your LGBT+ identity.
The various ways people prioritize and handle their identities is a very personal choice. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. While it can be intimidating to search for jobs, there are many resources and networks for LGBTQ+ people online. The Liberal Arts in Practice Center is dedicated to meeting the diverse needs of Beloit students and alums. Whether you are questioning whether or not to be out in the workplace, or just searching for somewhere you feel safe being you, LAPC aims to be safe and welcoming space with professional staff equipped to counsel and provide resources.
*Disclaimer* Of the people reached out to, only cis women responded. This could be a very different experience for other identities such as transgender people. If you have experience navigating the workplace or job search process with a marginalized identity and would like to share your experience on our platform please contact LAPC@beloit.edu. We’d love to hear from you.