Resumes with They/Them Pronouns More Likely to Be Ignored

Matt Gonzales By Matt Gonzales July 25, 2023

Job applicants who include gender-neutral pronouns on their resumes are less likely to be contacted by employers, according to a recent study by

In the report, researchers submitted two phantom resumes with a gender-ambiguous name to 180 unique job postings. The resumes were similar, except the test resume included the pronouns "they/them" and the control did not include any. The test resume with gender-neutral pronouns received 8 percent less interest, such as fewer interview invitations, than the control version.

Sixty-four percent of these companies are equal opportunity employers, indicating a potential gap between espoused and enacted values.

"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," Ryan McGonagill, author of the report and director of industry research at Waltham, Mass.-based, said in a press release.

He noted that awareness of gender-related discrimination and the popularity of workplace bias training programs have grown but also said that employers "still have more work to do to erase discrimination from their hiring processes and workplaces."

Mekayla Castro, an expert in behavioral science and head of curriculum at learning company Praxis Labs in New York City, said the study sheds light on the unique experiences and challenges experienced by nonbinary individuals.

"People underestimate the discrimination faced by nonbinary people," she said. "This research is a glaring reminder of how far we've yet to go to minimize bias and increase equity."

The study comes as state legislators have introduced a record number of bills negatively impacting LGBTQ+ individuals, leading to some LGBTQ+ job seekers expressing hesitancy about applying for jobs in those states.

What Hiring Managers Said About Pronouns

Researchers also sought feedback from hiring managers to understand why companies favored applicants who did not reveal their pronouns.

Using a new control resume without pronouns and a phantom resume either with or without pronouns, the report showed that 72 percent of hiring managers said they'd contact the applicant on the control resume, but only 69 percent would want to interview the applicant whose resume contained they/them pronouns.

When comparing resumes, hiring managers also felt:

  • The applicant with gender-neutral pronouns was 7 percent less qualified for the job.
  • 5 percent less positive about the resume with they/them pronouns.
  • 4 percent less likely to invite the applicant with gender-neutral pronouns for an interview.

When asked how applicants can improve their resumes, one hiring manager expressed their disinterest in the "drama that a person who thinks they are a 'they/them' brings with them," while another said that adding pronouns to resumes is "off-putting and unnecessary."

Respondents also spent less time considering the resume that included pronouns than those who saw the control resume without pronouns, the study found.

Ange Alvarez, HR and recruitment manager at Next PR in Colorado Springs, Colo., explained that companies often exercise bias against applicants who offer more information about themselves in the recruitment process—including their pronouns and gender.

"When it comes to unconscious or conscious bias, the less information recruiters have about the person, the more protected that person will be," she said. "If work experience from your resume piques the company's interest, you can offer a more holistic scope of yourself during the interview process."

[SHRM Online: Supporting LGBTQ+ Employees: Where Companies Are Progressing and Falling Short]

4 Ways to Eliminate Bias in Hiring Process

Elizabeth Weingarten, head of behavioral science insights at people-development platform Torch in San Francisco, explained that biased hiring processes don't get created in a vacuum and are often reflective of an organization's broader culture.

"Discriminatory behavior from a hiring manager is a symptom of a larger problem," she said. "Organizational leaders haven't designed inclusive systems and norms that communicate that those behaviors are not just intolerable but also could be harming the future of the organization."

Alvarez offered four tips for employers to eliminate bias from the hiring process and achieve a more diverse workplace:

  • Practice redacting personal information in the resume review process.
  • Track applicant data to a higher degree than what the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires. For example, assess how far along candidates of various backgrounds make it through the recruitment process.
  • Reflect on your four-fifths rule guidelines and examine how close you are to maintaining it. The four-fifths rule means that when you take the group with the highest percentage of hire, in comparison, other groups need to be hired at least 80 percent of that rate. If not, it's seen that there is adverse impact.          
  • Conduct unconscious bias training. Keeping biases top of mind and remaining aware of your own is the best route to progress.

"The corporate culture of a company might not be fully reflected in every hiring manager, interviewer or recruiter," Alvarez said. "Hiring managers and HR professionals have a duty to ask the hard questions when you receive feedback on a candidate that leans on a bias."



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