To read this content please select one of the options below:

Evaluations of LGBT job applicants: consequences of applying “out”

Kinsey B. Bryant-Lees (Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA)
Mary E. Kite (Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 1 December 2020

Issue publication date: 21 October 2021




This study aimed to experimentally investigate whether disclosing one's sexual orientation while applying for a job would impact hiring decisions.


The experiment employed a 2 (Applicant Gender: Male/Female) × 2 (Applicant Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual or Gay/Lesbian) × 2 (Job Type: Masculine/Feminine) between-subjects design. Participants (N = 349) were randomly assigned to one of eight applicant conditions. They were first presented with a job description, followed by a cover letter displaying the applicants' qualifications, gender and sexual orientation. Participants evaluated the applicant's competence, social skills and hireability, and provided self-reports of their attitudes toward gays/lesbians and traditional gender roles.


The results demonstrated a distinct pattern of discrimination toward gay/lesbian applicants who were rated significantly lower in competence, social skills and hireability than were heterosexual applicants. Additionally, using multigroup structural equation modeling, we found that sexual orientation differentially impacted the relationship between attitudes and hireability ratings; negative attitudes toward homosexuality, beliefs about sexual orientation as a choice and belief in traditional gender roles were significant predictors of hireability ratings for gay/lesbian applicants, but were unrelated to evaluations of heterosexual applicants.

Research limitations/implications

The current study highlights the underlying mechanisms involved in hiring discrimination against Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans (LGBT) workers including lower evaluations of competence, social skills and structural differences in the impact of attitudes. These direct links must be explicitly addressed for continued progress related to equality, diversity and inclusion in Human Resource Management (HRM). Continued multidisciplinary research that considers gender identity and sexual orientation signal salience, consequences of specific career stereotypes, regional differences and the effects of societal shifts in attitudes overtime will continue to improve our understanding and drive us toward a more equitable future.

Practical implications

By identifying the underlying mechanisms involved in hiring discrimination, this study highlights the need for diversity trainings that go beyond the blanket approaches to diversity management and explicitly address conscious and unconscious biases that may influence the hiring process. Additionally, it is critical for organizations to provide top-down support from leadership, and implement mechanisms that allow LGBT voices to be heard and feel comfortable in their work environment to reduce the psychological strain.

Social implications

Prior to the recent landmark ruling by the Supreme Court on June 15, 2020, which extended the 1964 Civil Rights Act workplace protections to gay, lesbianand transgender employees, in many places across the United States Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) identifying workers could still be legally discriminated against. The pattern of discrimination identified in the current study provides clear evidence that these protections are necessary, and long overdue.


This study identifies two clear patterns of hiring discrimination: (1) lower hireability ratings and (2) structural differences in the evaluative process for gay/lesbian applicants. These findings provide experimental evidence, currently lacking in the literature, that support survey-based and qualitative findings of LGBT's experiences, and demonstrate how negative attitudes, irrelevant to the qualifications of an applicant, seep into hiring decisions.



Bryant-Lees, K.B. and Kite, M.E. (2021), "Evaluations of LGBT job applicants: consequences of applying “out”", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 40 No. 7, pp. 874-891.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles