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Nonbinary pronouns nonhelpful on job resumes, study finds

Hiring managers were considerably less likely "to want to contact an applicant whose resume included 'they/them' pronouns," according to report.

Published: March 11, 2023 10:32pm

Updated: March 11, 2023 11:16pm

The number of U.S. adults who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary (LGBTQ+) continues to increase. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans identifying as something other than heterosexual has more than doubled in the space of a decade. 

As the number of people identifying as non-heterosexual continues to increase, so too does the number of those using gender-neutral pronouns. Personal gender pronouns (PGPs), a rather recent phenomenon, are part of someone's gender expression. They are commonly used by queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender individuals, although an increasing number of straight Americans are also using them. 

Nearly two-thirds of adults under 30 say they are comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns, according to YouGov.

But according to a new report by digital media company, identifying as a non-heterosexual and using nonbinary gender pronouns could adversely affect one's chances of being hired for a job.

The researchers asked hundreds of nonbinary people to describe the ways in which their gender identities impacted both their job searches and their experiences in the workplace. 

"More than 80 percent of nonbinary people believed that identifying as nonbinary would hurt their job search," reported Ryan McGonagill, industry research director at 

Modeling their research after a famous study conducted by the University of Chicago and Massachusetts Institute of Technology 20 years ago that evaluated racial bias in hiring practices,  the researchers substituted in gender-neutral pronouns for race. They then sent two "phantom" resumes to almost 200 job postings. 

The resumes were all but identical, with both featuring a generic, somewhat gender-ambiguous name, "Taylor Williams." The only difference — a vitally important one, it turned out — between the test and control resumes was the fact that the test version included gender pronouns. Specifically, the test resume placed "they/them" pronouns directly under the name in the header (read the author's full methodology below).

Both phantom candidates, college graduates, had qualifications matching the requirements of the entry-level jobs they applied for. "Despite this," noted the report,"the test resumes that included pronouns received eight percent less employer interest than the control resumes without pronouns."

When the authors followed up with the hiring managers, the managers confirmed they were considerably less likely "to want to contact an applicant whose resume included 'they/them' pronouns."

Most companies the job candidates applied to were equal opportunity employers.  Such employers have previously pledged not to discriminate against employees or applicants based on their sex, gender, race, religion, or age. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the law banning sex discrimination also applied to employees and applicants who identified as gay, lesbian, and transgender." Despite the prevalence of equal opportunity employers in the study, however, "the test resume with pronouns received less interest and fewer interview invitations than the control resume," the researchers found.

"As major layoffs sweep through the U.S. workforce, these timely data show that nonbinary individuals may have a more difficult time finding new jobs," the report concludes. "Despite increased awareness of the gender spectrum and the growing popularity of workplace bias training, employers still have more work to do to erase discrimination from their hiring processes and workplaces."

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