SURREY, England — Gay men and women are less likely to be elevated into top roles at their companies because of the way they sound when they speak, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Surrey presented voice samples and images of both gay and straight individuals to a group of heterosexual participants. Any inferences on sexual orientation were made by the participants, instead of being provided.
Based on their perception of the individuals presented, the participants were asked to provide input into whether they believed a given individual was suited to serve as a CEO, while also gauging the general employability of the presented individual and the salary they should receive.
The same process was repeated for lesbian candidates.
In both experiments, job candidates who were believed as being homosexual were less likely to be perceived as fitting the bill for a leadership role.
Interestingly, it was a “gay-sounding” vocal tone for male candidates that gave off the impression they were unqualified. Participants indicated that a gay man’s voice meant a candidate was less masculine, and thus less appropriate to be a CEO or even receive a higher salary.
Lesbians, also seen to be unqualified, were generally seen as not being feminine enough. They similarly received inferior evaluations compared to straight women.
“These results demonstrate that the mere sound of a voice is sufficient to trigger stereotyping denying gay- and lesbian-sounding speakers the qualities that are considered typical of their gender,” says lead researcher Dr. Fabio Fasoli in a university release. “It is revealing, that despite all the work to lessen discrimination against the LGBT community, people subconsciously typecast an individual before getting to know them. This study highlights that it can be a real problem in the workplace and for people’s career prospects.”
A related study asked participants to assign interests and personality traits to individuals based on just an audio sample. The participants were also asked which individuals they were more likely to be friends with.
Gay individuals were more likely to be assigned feminine traits and qualities than other men, while lesbian individuals were more likely to be given masculine traits. Prejudice against gay men also extended beyond employment: male participants shied away from being friends with homosexual speakers.
Fasoli highlights the troublesome nature of how “subconscious behavior [prompted] heterosexual male participants to avoid choosing a gay male as an acquaintance,” in their research.
The study was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.