Metro Weekly

Job Applicants Using ‘They/Them’ Pronouns Less Likely to Be Hired

A new study finds that job applicants with gender-neutral pronouns on their resumes are more likely to experience hiring discrimination.

Job applicant – Photo: rawpixel, via 123rf

A study published in the Social Science Research Network found that job applicants who use “they/them” pronouns are less likely to be hired.

The study’s author, University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Taryn Eames, claims the study is “the first large-scale correspondence study focused on evaluating hiring discrimination based on pronoun disclosure.”

Eames sent out 7,970 pairs of fake resumes — one with “they/them” pronouns and another without — for a fictitious applicant to large corporations and small businesses in six U.S. cities, across 15 occupations, between May and October 2023. 

To control for employers who might discriminate against any applicant who lists pronouns — which some employers may consider a political act, an indication of liberal ideology, or simply unprofessional — the resumes not only compared applicants with “they/them” pronouns to those who didn’t list any pronouns, but also tested responses to hypothetical applicants who listed “he/him” or “she/her” as pronouns.

Ultimately, Eames found that nonbinary pronouns on a resume reduced the positive response rate by 5.4% compared to applicants without pronouns and by 3.7% compared to those with binary-gendered pronouns.

Eames concluded that this means “an estimated 67% of discrimination against applicants disclosing ‘they/them’ pronouns is due to their nonbinary gender identity.”

The study also found that discrimination doubled in Republican-dominated areas versus Democratic-dominated areas.

This aligned with findings showing Republicans are more uncomfortable about the idea of transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming identities. (A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that 66% of Republicans, but only 10% of Democrats, said “society has gone too far in accepting transgender people,” and a 2022 YouGov poll found that 66% of Republicans, but only 37% of Democrats are “somewhat or very uncomfortable” using gender-neutral pronouns.)

The study’s results were inconclusive when examining whether presumed cisgender applicants who disclose pronouns experience discrimination compared to those who don’t.

As Eames noted, “if [such] discrimination does exist, it is of lower magnitude than discrimination against nonbinary applicants who disclose pronouns.”

The study aligns with similar findings from a 2023 report indicating that job-seekers with nonbinary gender pronouns on their resumes were less likely to be contacted by employers.

In that study, an experiment of whether bias against nonbinary individuals is prevalent found that hiring managers were 8% less likely to consider an applicant with “they/them” pronouns as a “good fit” for a position.

The report also asked 450 nonbinary professionals about their personal experiences in the workplace.

One in four nonbinary individuals said their gender identity negatively impacted their experiences at work, and 72% expressed concern that revealing their gender identity to prospective employers would negatively influence their job search.

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