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Study: A Gay-Sounding Voice Could Cost You a Top Job

Gay men and lesbians face discrimination when seeking leadership positions due to the sound of their voice, according to a new study.
Mature businessman talking on phone in office
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Gay men and lesbians may be turned down for leadership positions and paid less because of their voice, according to a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

During the study, heterosexual sample groups were presented with photos and audio recordings of gay, lesbian and straight speakers (who in a previous study were found to have “prototypical” heterosexual and homosexual voices). No other information about the speakers was provided. Participants were asked to form impressions about the speakers as if they were applicants for a fake CEO position. The sample group had to evaluate the employability of each candidate as well as the amount of monthly salary they thought was fair for each person.

When it came to male speakers, the participants associated heterosexual-sounding voices with masculine traits, which in turn increased their perceived suitability for the role and chance of receiving a higher salary. Lesbian candidates were associated with a lack of femininity and received lower evaluations when compared to their straight counterparts.

“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,” Dr. Fabio Fasoli, the study’s lead researcher, said in a statement.

“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.” Fasoli added.

One of the limits of the research, however, was that it used solely Italian subjects. In the study, the researchers note “the stereotypical beliefs investigated here may be specific of the Italian context.”

David Thorpe, the filmmaker behind the documentary “Do I Sound Gay?,” which explores the existence of the stereotypical “gay voice,” told NBC Out he “wouldn’t be surprised if that study played out similarly in the U.S.”

However, he said, it’s important to remember the study was done using only a picture and a sound clip. “Obviously in real life when you’re sitting in a real interview situation you’re seeing much more,” he said. “I don’t know that the outcome would be the same if you were able to study actual job interviews.”

Still, Thorpe added, this study and others like it are important “because they prove that people have these stereotypes.”

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