Monday, February 1, 2016
A recent report from the social sciences field explores the trend of higher gay and lesbian presence in certain fields of labor and careers than others. The title of the report is Concealable Stigma and Occupational Segregation: Toward a Theory of Gay and Lesbian Occupations. It was published by Administrative Science Quarterly, but has been featured separately on the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Business Review Blog and Paul Caron’s TaxProfBlog in the last few weeks.
So why are gay and lesbians overrepresented in certain fields such as psychology, social work, law, and higher ed teaching? Are there truthful correlations in age-old stereotypes regarding the type of careers that gays and lesbians take on in the workplace (e.g., gay hairdressers and lesbian truck drivers)?
In assessing, what the title of the report calls, “concealable stigma” and its link to occupational segregation of sexual minorities into certain jobs, the authors of the report, András Tilcsik (University of Toronto), Michael Anteby (Boston University), and Carly R. Knight (Harvard), have observed that sexual minorities tend to hold occupations that allow them to rely on their experiences of discrimination and social stigma. Gay men and lesbians tend to be drawn to occupations that require task independence—the ability to perform tasks without large dependence on coworkers—because it allows concealment of sexual orientation and reduces negative consequences of being “out.” They also tend to hold occupations that require high social perceptiveness—of being able to accurately read, anticipate and gauge others’ reactions. A table of empirical data regarding the types of occupations with high numbers of gay and lesbian workers from the report with observations regarding whether such occupations require task independence and/or social perceptiveness is reproduced here:
Occupations with the Highest Joint Proportion of Gay and Lesbian Workers
1. Psychologists (S*, T**)
2. Training and development specialists and managers (S)
3. Social and community service managers (S, T)
4. Technical writers (T)
5. Occupational therapists (S, T)
6. Massage therapists (S, T)
7. Urban and regional planners (S, T)
8. Producers and directors (S, T)
9. Postsecondary teachers (S, T)
10. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists (S, T)
11. Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors (S)
12. Physical therapists and exercise physiologists (S, T)
13. Computer and information systems managers (S, T)
14. Lawyers, and judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers (S, T)
15. Web developers (T)
*S = Occupation requires above-average social perceptiveness
**T = Above-average task independence is associated with the occupation
The authors theorize that eventually such occupational trends might change as sexual minorities become more visible and accepted due to the visibility of same-sex relationships. Gay and lesbians might lose their social perceptiveness. But for now, the authors believe that there will continue to be strong correlation between social stigma and discrimination and the career paths that gays and lesbians pick.
What’s interesting for this writer of the HRAH blog is how social stigma of sexual minorities is characterized by this report as a strong but invisible influence for career choices and how it contributes to segregation and hierarchy in the workplace. Occupational choices are complicated for the livelihoods of gays and lesbian just as they are for everyone else. But as the report seems to suggest, the choice of career paths for gays and lesbians consists of influences and skills obtained from their history of societal marginalization and segregation. Whether the truth is as emphatic as the authors present here, their ideas are fascinating considering the substantial amount of time that we all spend in our lifetimes at work.