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Mary and Susan are both applying for a job at a local retail store. Mary is more qualified: She’s never been unemployed since graduating in 2010 from Virginia Tech with a 3.80 GPA, has experience working face-to-face with medical patients, and pens a stellar cover letter. Susan has also worked in healthcare, but graduated more recently and shows fewer skills. Among other differences on their resumes? Mary includes her birth name: Mark.
Who do you think will get the job? The applicant perceived by the employer as transgender or cisgender?
A report released today by the D.C. Office of Human Rights finds that individuals who indicate on job applications that they are gender non-conforming are less likely to receive interview offers than their gender-conforming peers. This happens even when, on paper, the gender-nonconforming applicant is the superior candidate. That finding—based on testing OHR conducted from February to July 2015 —confirms what scholars and members of the LGBTQ community already know: Transgender people face broad discrimination in employment. In fact, 48 percent of employers appeared to give preference to cisgender applicants, according to the report.
To gather demonstrable data, OHR sent four (fake) applications to each of 50 jobs across 38 unnamed employers, including retailers, restaurants, universities, grocery stores, hotels, and administrative offices. Two of the four applications suggested the individuals under consideration were trans people, while the others suggested they were cisgender. For example, one applicant’s resume listed his first job as a staffer at a transgender advocacy organization; one for the fictional Mary Fitzgerald displayed her legal name, Mark, in parentheses.
In 21 of the 50 jobs applied for, at least one applicant received an initial interview offer. Ten of those 21 tests were marked as discriminatory because the employer either offered an interview to the less-qualified but seemingly gender-conforming applicant over at least one of the apparently transgender applicants, or did not contact the individual indicated as transgender until 11 to 18 days after they’d contacted the applicant signaled as cisgender. Those results produced the 48-percent discrimination figure, while not marking the delayed offers as discriminatory would have generated a 33 percent figure.
Notably, the applicant who had worked for a trans advocacy group experienced the highest rate of discrimination: 69 percent. Restaurants had the highest rate of discrimination of the six industries tested, at 67 percent. David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. Center, says the report shows trans people “face tremendous job discrimination,” adding that in the District, trans people experience high unemployment rates.
“It’s vital that government, the business community, and advocates work together to end this chronic injustice,” OHR Director Mónica Palacio writes.
Elliot E. Imse, one of the lead authors of the study, adds that OHR will be launching director’s inquiries into the five employers whose tests indicated the most discriminatory behavior. That means the agency will conduct full investigations into those employers’ hiring policies and practices, and may issue advisory recommendations.
Had an individual actually come to OHR alleging discrimination based on their gender identity or expression (or any of the 18 other “protected traits” under District law), OHR could have engaged in mediation with the employer to ensure the latter would comply with non-discrimination statues. Last fiscal year, OHR won about $3.5 million in settlements for people who had complained of discrimination through its channels, Imse says, adding that in fiscal year 2014, OHR processed 29 discrimination complaints based on a person’s gender identity or expression.
“We really hope this report opens some eyes and helps people understand the challenges transgender people face, and sparks conversation,” Imse says. “It’s important to make sure that companies have policies that don’t discriminate against marginalized groups.”
Screenshots via D.C. Office of Human Rights report