Jennifer and Michelle both apply for an administrative assistant position at Exxon Mobil in Illinois.
They went to the same high school and the same college, and they have a similar work history, though Jennifer got better grades and achieved management positions. Yet it’s Michelle who gets the callback for an interview.
The only other real difference between the two is that Jennifer has a history of LGBT activism.
If you haven’t already guessed, Jennifer and Michelle are the names on fake résumés that were submitted to eight different federal contractors as part of a recent study by the Equal Rights Center and Freedom to Work, an LGBT organization pushing for equality in the workplace. Although the applicants in the study are fictional, the results are very real: LGBT applicants were 23 percent less likely to get an interview than their less-qualified heterosexual counterparts.
“Despite significant progress in advancing civil rights and equality, employment discrimination remains a persistent barrier for the LGBT community,” said Melvina Ford, executive director of the Equal Rights Center.
A pair of résumés was submitted for 100 different jobs at eight different federal contractors, including Exxon Mobil and General Electric Co. Seven of the selected companies have their own internal employment policies allowing for discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The study began in December 2012 after advocates were informed that President Barack Obama wouldn’t be signing an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against prospective employees based on sexual orientation or identity. This “long-stalled” order was at the forefront of their minds when they decided to test how severe LGBT discrimination really was, said Tico Almeida, president and founder of Freedom to Work.
“As much progress as our LGBT community has made in freedom to marry, there’s still a lot to be done to make sure our LGBT community has the freedom to work without discrimination,” said Almeida.
The study lasted a year, ending in December 2013, and the results were released earlier this week. Although not every résumé received a callback, the straight applicants received callbacks more often, even though they were much less qualified. The findings have already been shared with the White House and the Labor Department, Almeida said.
The results of the report come just a few weeks after Obama announced he would finally be moving forward with the federal contractor executive order.
Federal contractors employ about 20 percent of the total U.S. workforce, and a few key employers have been publicly criticized for refusing to protect LGBT workers. Exxon Mobil, for one, has repeatedly shot down proposals that would ban discrimination of LGBT employees.
“An executive order by President Obama would force Exxon Mobil to adopt LGBT workplace protections in order to continue profiting from hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts,” said Almeida.
Workplace discrimination comes in many forms, experts say, from being passed over for promotions to receiving a lower salary, being unjustly fired, or being harassed. There is currently no federal law protecting LGBT workers from hiring and employment discrimination.
While some states have protective measures, it’s still legal in 29 states to fire or refuse employment to a person based on sexual orientation.
Although Almeida is confident the president will sign the executive order this time around, he and many other LGBT advocates support more sweeping, comprehensive change.
This comes in the form of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a piece of legislation—with its own shortfalls—that passed the Senate last year but has petered out in the House.
LGBT supporters continue to raise money and lobby for ENDA, and Almeida’s Freedom to Work has launched a concentrated campaign to target specific prospective ENDA supporters in the House. The 218 project, named for the magic number needed for majority support, will feature five House members a week and encourage voters to contact them voicing their support for antidiscrimination legislation.