Scientists say that gay men and lesbian women may face discrimination when seeking job positions due to the sound of their voice.
The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Surrey, also found that people think gay men should be paid less than their heterosexual counterparts.
Researchers presented voice samples and pictures of gay and heterosexual speakers,without any background features and other characteristics, to a heterosexual sample group. The participants were not informed of the sexual orientation of the person but allowed to freely guess from the voice or face of the individual.
The sample group were asked to form impressions about applicants for the fake position of CEO, to evaluate the employability of candidates and to report the amount of monthly salary they considered adequate. The process was then repeated with lesbian candidates.
Researchers discovered that participants perceived men and women who they considered to be gay or lesbian, as inadequate for a leadership position.
For male candidates, auditory and not facial features impacted on whether they were deemed suitable for the role. Researchers discovered that having a heterosexual- rather than a ‘gay- sounding’ voice created the impression that the speaker had typically masculine traits, which in turn increased their perceived suitability for the role and the chance of receiving a higher salary.
Lesbian candidates were associated with a lack of femininity and identified as gender non-conforming and received less positive evaluation than heterosexual 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,” said researcher Dr Fabio Fasoli.
“It is revealing that despite all the work to lessen discrimination against the LGBT community, people subconsciously type cast 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.”
In another study, participants were also asked to listen to the voices of two different speakers who pronounced a single sentence of neutral content and then requested to evaluate the speakers’ likely personality traits and personal interests (i.e. sports and fields of study).
In addition, participants were asked which of the speakers they would choose as an acquaintance. Similarly to the first study this was repeated with lesbian candidates.
Researchers discovered that participants attributed more feminine traits to the gay than to the heterosexual speakers and lesbian speakers were more likely to be associated with masculine than to feminine characteristics. Interestingly, this happened without any mention of sexual orientation of the speakers demonstrating that vocal cues can lead to unfair stereotyping.
When asked which of the speakers’ participants would choose as an acquaintance for an interaction, researchers found that male participants were more likely to avoid male gay-sounding speakers, suggesting a subtle impact of voice on social exclusion of gay individuals.
Dr Fasoli added: “What is most concerning about this study is the subconscious behaviour intention of participants, where heterosexual male participants avoided choosing a gay male as an acquaintance.
“This study demonstrates that unacceptable levels of discrimination, be they subconscious or conscious, still exists in our society, and we need to do more to tackle the discrimination faced by the LGBT community.”