Pronouns Ruin Prospects: Research Proves Hiring Managers’ Bias Against Non-Binary and Gender Queer Pronoun Users

Pronouns may be nothing new, but the idea that people may claim their own is still somewhat astonishing to some. Many people still succumb to the siren call of referring to people using binary pronouns.

While struggling to get used to something relatively new is understandable, what is not fair is using it as an excuse to promote bias, especially when it can keep people from earning their livelihoods. Yet hiring managers all over the world seem to be doing just that.

Simply put, research into recent hiring trends shows that resumes with genderqueer and non-binary pronouns elicit less than enthusiastic responses from prospective employers. Some applications are skipped over entirely, while others never receive a callback. A worrying trend, to say the least.

What Does The Law Say?

Legislative guidance introduced by NYCHRL clearly states that the “use the name, pronouns, and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs./Mx.) 15 with which a person self-identifies, regardless of the person’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the person’s identification.” Despite that, recent research conducted by concluded that “More than 80 percent of nonbinary people believed that identifying as nonbinary would hurt their job search.”

As part of the research, sent two resumes to prospective employers. The two resumes were identical except for one thing — one used pronouns identifying the applicant as a non-binary or gender-nonconforming person. The one with the pronouns was the Test resume, and the other was the Control resume.

Researchers noticed that the Control was much more likely to receive follow-ups and calls for interviews. When they contacted employers for updates, they realized that the Test resume was also less likely to encourage communication from prospective employers.

This led them to conclude that a non-binary individual who self-identifies on a job application may face conscious or unconscious bias and are less likely to even get to the interview stage.

Interestingly, many businesses that seemed reluctant to revert to follow-up communications from the sender of the Test resume are Equal Opportunity Employers. Yet they made up a hefty portion (64%) of the businesses that led to the Test resume receiving 8% less interest than the Control one.

New York, with its Gender Identity/Gender Expression: Legal Enforcement Guidance, isn’t an exception either. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states, “…intentionally and repeatedly using the wrong name and pronouns to refer to a transgender employee could contribute to an unlawful hostile work environment.” Yet  “68% (non-binary individuals) report not having enough money to make ends meet, and 43% live in low-income households below 200% of the federal poverty level”, reports UCLA in a press release.

With the recent wave of layoffs sweeping across the tech industry, the current situation has become even more worrisome. Due to the now well-documented bias, non-binary knowledge workers who the layoffs have hit may find it increasingly challenging to find a new role.

Why Is This Even Important?

To understand how it affects individuals, I spoke to K. K, a gender-nonconforming professional who chooses not to use pronouns in job applications. The reason? They don’t ascribe to any. They still don’t think it is okay for hiring managers to disqualify gender-nonconforming applicants who state their pronouns on their resumes.

“I think it's pretty clearly discrimination to not accept applicants based on pronoun inclusion on resumes/applications. Suppose cis people, binary trans people, or genderqueer people who don't care about pronouns (like me) are applying and leave them off. In that case, it doesn't make a difference how they will feel about what is used to refer to them based on assumptions (as long as binary trans people aren't being purposefully misgendered). But suppose a non-binary person who includes “they/them” as their pronouns or anyone using neopronouns includes theirs. In that case, they aren't being performative or showing anything about themselves except that they wish to be respected for who they are,” says K.

“…Any hiring manager admitting that they do not accept people who include pronouns is bigoted against non-binary and genderqueer people. I think that's wrong in private life, but it's explicitly illegal when it comes to hiring practices in the United States”, they added.

This discussion also led to a personal moment of revelation for K. “I don't care if people use he, she, they, or neopronouns for me. I've considered adding “any/all” to my social media for pronouns and given this discussion may add it to my resume…I think cis people who include pronouns are just trying to normalize pronoun inclusion in the same way that straight people started using “partner,” so I may start doing it as well.”

As K succinctly pointed out, the entire thing boils down to respect. Hiring managers choosing not to use people’s appropriate pronouns, especially when the individuals in question have gone out of their way to emphasize them, is disrespectful. Prospective employers go a step further and make it harder for such individuals to get access to jobs borders on discrimination.

That said, it is true that sometimes these biases are so ingrained and inherent that one may fail even to notice them. So, what can you do as an employer or hiring manager to make the process more inclusive for genderqueer and non-binary individuals?

Ways To Mitigate Bias in The Hiring Process

The first step is definitely acknowledgment. Sometimes our subconscious biases lead us to behave in certain ways regarding particular genders, races, classes, ages, etc. Once one is aware of the bias in oneself and their organization, one can finally begin the reparation process.

Suppose you and your organization are serious about being inclusive and not discriminating against potential employees based on their gender identity and pronoun usage. In that case, there are certain steps you’d have to take.

To remove such biases from the recruitment process, you can:

  • Normalize the use of neutral pronouns and inclusive language while conducting the interviews
  • Hold educative webinars and sessions with HR and existing employees about the importance of using people's correct pronouns
  • Have a diverse panel of interviewers. Try and have genderqueer representation on board so unconscious biases have less chance of prevailing
  • Lead by example. Share your pronouns before meetings and discussions to normalize the subject

What’s in a Name?

In the end, pronouns are just how people refer to themselves and how you refer to them when they are not the ones being spoken to. Language is fluid, and so are people and their identities. So, what does it matter how people want you to refer to them as long as you can communicate effectively with each other?

Acknowledging someone’s pronouns can make the individual feel validated and accepted. Discriminating against someone just based on their gender identity and choice of pronouns, thus, seems more than a little nonsensical. The problem becomes even more significant when such an odd little bias can stop people from earning their livelihood and existing as functioning members of society.

It is a truth acknowledged across industries that a happy employee is also more productive. So, ensuring your employee feels respected and included can directly convert to ROI. And, in the end, isn’t that what all good businesses should aim for, i.e., implement practices that convert into solid profits for the company in the long run?

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Ananyaa Bhowmik is a neurodivergent and queer pop-culture journalist with the Wealth of Geeks. She has previously worked with brands like Sterling Holidays, Myntra, Bajaj, and the Loud Interactive. She is an independent scholar, cat parent, and performance poet. Her areas of research and interest focus on and around digital marketing, Canadian indigenous history, queerness in media, and pop-culture and fandom studies.