Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Behavioral Prescriptions in the Labor Market
A broad literature has established that laboratory respondents prefer women who behave in traditionally feminine ways in the workplace to those who behave in traditionally masculine ways. This is referred to as the "backlash effect." This pattern of behavior has serious implications in the labor market - for example, female job applicants negotiate less than male job applicants and report a lower ceiling on how much they can ask for in a negotiation without being seen as overly demanding.
In this study, I examine two questions at the intersection of the literature on the backlash effect and discrimination based on sexual orientation. First, I test whether the backlash effect varies by the sexual orientation of the job applicant. Second, I examine if the main effect of sexual orientation discrimination varies by the sex of the job applicant.
To examine these two questions, I created resumes that were manipulated on sex, perceived sexual orientation, and whether the resume used traditionally masculine or feminine adjectives. I find that male respondents evaluated perceived-heterosexual women who used feminine adjectives more positively than when they used masculine adjectives. However, the resumes of perceived-gay women and perceived-heterosexual men were both immune to this effect. This suggests that heterosexual women experience the backlash effect, while gay women do not. Second, I found that male resumes with an LGBT activity were evaluated negatively on numerous personality characteristics and their work history was viewed as less useful when compared to a resume with an identical work history. However, this did not occur for female resumes with an LGBT activity.
These two findings highlight the importance of considering the intersection of sex and sexual orientation when examining different types of labor market discrimination. The backlash effect predominantly impacts heterosexual women, while discrimination based on sexual orientation predominantly impacts gay men.