Sexuality-Free Careers? Sexual Minority Young Adults’ Perceived Lack of Labor Market Disadvantages

Sexuality-Free Careers? Sexual Minority Young Adults’ Perceived Lack of Labor Market Disadvantages Abstract In recent studies, many young sexual minorities reported that their minority status has not undermined their career plans, despite the persistent heteronormativity in schools, workplaces, and family. By analyzing in-depth interviews of 34 sexual minority young adults, this article examines how they develop such a perception. Their explanations included five elements—distancing themselves from sexual minorities who conformed to stereotypes about the group, overlooking career sacrifices they had already made, anticipating that their future careers would be sexuality free, and maintaining a general sense of hope and optimism. Some respondents even anticipated positive career consequences, pointing to three advantages of sexual minority status, including a strong career motivation, unique skills and abilities, and favorable treatments from employers. We interpret these results by conceptualizing their career plans as a part of their life narratives and discuss the implications for the sexual minority population and for society. work and occupations, life course, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, narratives, young adults Despite the increasing acceptance of sexual diversity in society, people who report a non-heterosexual orientation (“sexual minorities”) continue to face workplace discrimination (Badgett et al. 2007; Hull 2005). As a result, sexual minorities are excluded from certain occupations and concentrated in others (Badgett and King 1995; Hewitt 1995; Ueno, Roach, and Peña-Talamantes 2013). Consistently, some sexual minority young adults report that their sexual orientation has negatively impacted their career plans (Oswalt and Wyatt 2011; Schneider and Dimito 2010). As recent qualitative studies have demonstrated, however, many other sexual minorities believe that their sexual orientation has had either no impact or a positive impact on their career plans (Adams, Cahill, and Ackerlind 2005; Fine 2011; Oswalt and Wyatt 2011; Schneider and Dimito 2010). Extending this literature, the present study aims to gain insights into how sexual minorities develop such optimistic views by analyzing in-depth interviews of 34 sexual minority young adults who were entering or planning for the initial stage of their careers. Studying career plans is important because they not only direct individuals’ career paths but also affect their self-assessment of career success and work satisfaction (Hardie 2014). The topic is also timely in the current social context characterized by rapid changes in the meaning of sexualities (Powell et al. 2010; Seidman 2004) and improvements in legislation and company practices to protect sexual minority workers (Human Rights Campaign 2016; Williams and Giuffre 2011). The study investigates how sexual minorities develop their career plans in this historical context. CAREER NARRATIVES We conceptualize career plans as a part of career narratives (Ezzy 1997), or more broadly, life stories (Cohler and Hostetler 2003). People develop life stories to maintain a sense of coherence and personal continuity, and this process involves interpretations of past and ongoing experiences within specific historical contexts. Career narratives have narrower foci and describe accomplishments, failures, and changes in educational and work histories (Bujold 2004; Heinz 2002; Martin and Majcman 2004). Career narratives not only address past and present experiences but also provide directions for the future by specifying long-term and short-term goals (Ezzy 1997; Heinz 2002). For example, people develop and revise their career plans as they interpret their educational and work progress. In this sense, career narratives present personal accounts about how career plans have emerged and changed. Scholars have argued that the importance of personal narratives for young people has increased in recent years because of the increasing fluidity in the labor market and the increasing individual variations in the life course (Settersten 2007; Shanahan 2000). People exercise personal agency in narrative construction by drawing on, manipulating, and reconstructing discourses available in specific cultural and historical contexts (Cohler and Hostetler 2003). At the collective level, narratives serve to challenge or endorse social institutions (Ewick and Silbey 1995, 2003) and increase the solidarity of participants in political movements (Polletta 1998). Marginalized groups may use narrative construction as a coping strategy, for example, by developing accounts for their disadvantages in society, positively reframing their disadvantages, and giving positive meaning to their future goals undermined by their marginalization in society (Padavic 2005; Sandstrom 1990; Silva 2012). In this article, we seek to demonstrate how sexual minority young adults use career narratives to cope with the stigma attached to non-heterosexual orientations as they draw on current sexuality discourses. In the past, sexual minorities experienced stigmatization in many social spaces, which forced them to develop enclaves for support exchange, socialization, and search of romantic partner while hiding their sexual orientation from people outside the enclaves. Today, people are more accepting of non-heterosexual orientations (Powell et al. 2010; Saad 2012), and many sexual minorities have become integrated into the heterosexual society (Pollner and Rosenfeld 2000; Seidman 2004). In the work domain, anti-discrimination laws have passed in some states, and an increasing number of employers have implemented practices that protect sexual minority workers (Williams and Giuffre 2011), partly as a result of sexual minorities’ collective effort to improve work conditions (Raeburn 2004; Tuttle 2010). These changes have occurred along with the development of discourses that emphasize sexuality group integration and celebrate sexual diversity (Savin-Williams 2005; Seidman 2004). The implications of these new discourses for career narratives are unclear, however. The discourses may promote a sentiment among sexual minorities that their sexual orientation should not matter for occupational careers, thereby inspiring them to take career paths that have been uncommon for the sexual minority population. It is also possible, however, that the new discourses allow sexual minorities to express their unique interests more freely and thus pursue careers that already have a visible presence of sexual minority workers. SEXUAL MINORITIES’ CAREER PLANS Past research on sexual minority workers tended to focus on sexual orientation disclosure and discrimination experience (e.g., Ragins and Cornwell 2001), and young sexual minorities’ career plans have received limited attention from scholars. The little research that exists in this area often emphasizes sexual minorities’ distinct, and sometimes stereotypical, career choices, such as altruistic and nonprofit occupations (Ng, Schweitzer, and Lyons 2012; Lewis 2010) and those that involve art and sociability (Chung and Harmon 1994). It is unclear, however, how these patterns emerge and how sexual minorities explain these career choices. Further, results have been mixed regarding whether sexual minorities perceive their sexual orientation as having positive, negative, or no impact on their career development. In previous studies, some sexual minorities have reported that their non-heterosexual orientation had a negative impact on their career plans. For example, in a survey study of sexual minorities, 24 percent of respondents reported that their sexual orientation had negatively affected their career plans, and about a third said that their orientation had limited career choices (Schneider and Dimito 2010). The study also illustrated an important consequence of discrimination—those who experienced sexuality discrimination were more likely than others to report a strong impact of sexual orientation on their career choices. This finding may indicate that sexual minorities internalize occupational stereotypes through socialization in heteronormative environments (Croteau et al. 2000), or that they enter occupational areas characterized by high concentrations of sexual minority workers, hoping that those occupations will provide a safer work environment (Hewitt 1995). In short, these views about negative impacts emphasize the persistent stigma of non-heterosexual orientation. Contrary to these findings, recent studies show that many sexual minority young adults perceive no impact of their sexual orientation on their careers (Fine 2011; Harris 2014). In a recent in-depth interview study (Adams, Cahill, and Ackerlind 2005), Latino sexual minorities did not believe that their sexual orientations had constrained their career choices. Similarly, in a study conducted at a historically black college, sexual minority students believed that their sexual orientation would not undermine their career achievement and that they had the ability to fight any discrimination that they might face in their future workplaces (Harris 2014). These views may reflect the increasing acceptance of sexual diversity in society, or they may just suggest the general tendency among young adults to have unrealistically optimistic views about their careers (Reynolds et al. 2006; Schneider and Stevenson 1999). This perceived lack of career disadvantages may also be an outcome of sexual minorities’ tendency to downplay negative consequences of their sexual orientation in various aspects of their lives. For example, sexual minority college students ignore past discrimination experiences, expect only a limited level of acceptance from heterosexual peers, and emphasize positive experiences in their campus life (Anderson 2005; Evans 2001; Fine 2011; Ueno and Gentile 2015). Researchers argue that sexual minorities develop these narratives to sustain a sense of self-esteem and trust in others, which would help them reduce psychological stress in their daily encounters of discrimination and heteronormativity. These processes are not unique to sexual minorities. Racial minorities, for example, develop similar narratives to discount negative impacts of their racial background (e.g., Wilkins 2012). In this study, we demonstrate how sexual minority young adults use these types of strategies to negate the potential disadvantages of their non-heterosexual orientation in the labor market. Some sexual minorities not only deny disadvantages linked to their minority status but also believe that it has positive impacts. In Adams and colleagues’ (2005) study, for example, some respondents reported that their minority status had strengthened their ability to make career decisions independently, and others interpreted past discrimination experiences as learning lessons (also see Fine 2011). Further, in Margaret Schneider and Anne Dimito’s study (2010), many sexual minorities (52 percent) noted that their sexual minority status expanded their career options. In the present study, we seek to extend the existing literature in two ways. First, although past quantitative studies have emphasized unique occupational choices among sexual minorities, little is known about how sexual minorities explain these career choices and, more specifically, to what extent they consider these choices to have been limited by their sexual minority status. By analyzing their career narratives, we provide supply-side views on these questions. Second, previous studies have tended to emphasize structural constraints on sexual minorities’ career plans and thus treat them as passive beings. Building on recent qualitative studies (Adams et al. 2005; Fine 2011; Harris 2014), the present study seeks to illustrate how they develop resilience against marginalization through narrative construction and exercise agency by drawing on current social discourses, although we remain critical about the implications of such adaptations for the individual and for society. By demonstrating how sexual orientation is tied to resilience and agency, we also seek to contribute to the broader literature on life course, which emphasizes the importance of these factors for life trajectories (Elder, Johnson, and Crosnoe 2003). METHODS We conducted in-depth interviews with 34 sexual minority young adults in a southeastern city. The city had a liberal political climate although the state had a long tradition of conservative politics. The city culture was oriented toward young adult college students due to several postsecondary institutions in the area, including two universities, a community college, and an institution that offered specialized occupational training. The two universities and government agencies were the biggest employers in the city. The youth-oriented culture and the public-sector job opportunities may have contributed to respondents’ optimistic prospects about their careers. Between 2011 and 2012, we distributed study invitations to young adults in the following places: sociology courses and sexual minority student organizations in the universities and community college in the area, a gay-straight alliance in a high school, and two community organizations that served sexual minorities. To reach out to sexual minorities who did not belong to these institutions and organizations, the invitation asked the e-mail recipients to forward the invitation to others who might be eligible, and existing participants were also asked to distribute the invitation to their friends after their interviews. Participants had to meet the following three criteria: (1) identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual or have attraction to people of the same gender; (2) be between 18 and 25 years old; and (3) live in or near the city where the study took place. After completing 34 interviews, we determined that the data reached saturation—the last few interviews tended to be redundant with previous ones and did not provide new insights. We therefore stopped recruiting respondents at that point. Table 1 summarizes participants’ sociodemographic background. All respondents except three had worked before. Eight respondents were currently employed full time in occupations such as bank employee and cosmetologist, but others had worked only for part-time or temporary jobs such as lifeguard, fast food worker, store clerk, and university orientation staff. The sample included only a small number of respondents who had never attended college or university, partly due to the city’s demographic composition. This sample characteristic also reflected challenges in reaching out to non-student young adults, however. Table 1. Sample Characteristics Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Table 1. Sample Characteristics Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Interviews took place in a private office at a university, except for one interview conducted at a coffee shop. The interviews were semistructured—we used an interview guide to ask key questions while spontaneously adjusting the questions and asking probing questions to collect information unique to each participant. The interviews covered several major topics, including sexuality, education and training, work, and future plans. We asked respondents about their major events and experiences in chronological order to help respondents tell their life stories from childhood to the future. The data presented in this article came mostly from the section on future plans, which included the following key questions: “Did your sexual orientation have any impact on your future plans?”; (If the plan had changed) “Did your sexual orientation have anything to do with the change in your future plans?”; and “Do you anticipate that sexual orientation will affect your career or job search process? Do you think your sexual orientation will make it easier or harder to achieve your career goals?” For respondents with work history, we also asked, “Have you experienced any advantages or disadvantages for being gay/lesbian/bisexual/(other identity) in your current or previous workplaces and job searches?” Their responses to the question provided important information about their views on future careers. We transcribed the interviews and analyzed the text data by engaging in a series of procedures including initial coding, creating memos, and focused coding (Charmaz 2006). The initial coding identified interview segments indicating participants’ perceptions of positive, negative, or no impact of sexual orientation and helped us generate memos on how participants explained their responses. In this process, we also looked for comments regarding the impact of sexual minority status on school experience in adolescence, previous or current jobs, and college or occupational training because those comments might help us interpret respondents’ perceived impact on career plans. We initially expected that anticipation of career disadvantages would be prevalent among the respondents because many quantitative studies have emphasized sexual minority workers’ challenges in the labor market, but the initial coding of our data revealed this was not the case. For example, none of the respondents reported their sexual minority status limited their occupational choices, although there were two respondents who reported restricted choices regarding workplaces and employers and two other respondents who reported constraints on geographical areas in which they planned to build their careers. Instead, many respondents reported no impact and positive impact. Therefore, we decided to focus on these perceptions that received limited attention in past research. As we analyzed explanations of these perceptions, we came to observe patterns of respondents’ effort to construct narratives. Although a few studies based on in-depth interviews reported sexual minorities’ perceptions of no or positive impact (Adams et al. 2005), they paid little attention to this narrative construction aspect. To gain greater insights, we conducted another round of more detailed coding by classifying these patterns into subthemes (i.e., focused coding). Table 2 presents frequencies of these subthemes. In the section below, we present the detailed results by these subthemes focusing on those for perceptions of no impact and positive impact. Table 2. Frequencies of Major Themes No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 Notes: N = 34. Each frequency shows how many respondents mentioned the theme at least once during the interviews. The frequencies do not add up to the sample size because a given respondent addressed more than one theme. Table 2. Frequencies of Major Themes No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 Notes: N = 34. Each frequency shows how many respondents mentioned the theme at least once during the interviews. The frequencies do not add up to the sample size because a given respondent addressed more than one theme. NARRATIVES OF NO IMPACT At some point during the interview, a majority of respondents (91 percent) mentioned that their sexual minority status would have no impact on their future careers, and their explanations addressed four major themes: distancing themselves from stereotypical sexual minorities, overlooking adaptive behaviors, viewing the target industry as asexual, and maintaining hopes and optimism. As we explain below, these themes differed in the ways respondents denied the risk of workplace discrimination. Distancing from Discrimination Victims Explaining their anticipation of no career disadvantage, nine participants (26 percent) argued that they were not the kind of sexual minorities who encounter workplace discrimination. Seven of these participants described how they differed in their self-presentations of sexual orientation. For example, Clarisa1 1 We use pseudonyms to protect respondents’ confidentiality. (Hispanic, lesbian) anticipated no disadvantage because she did not “look like a typical lesbian.” Some respondents also commented that they were not “loud about sexuality” (Nelson, mixed race, unlabeled sexuality) or “not flamboyant about it” (Chloe, white, bisexual). Similar approaches to sexual identity (i.e., managing the visibility while being out) have been reported in previous studies of workplace interactions (Giuffre, Dellinger, and Williams 2008; Williams and Giuffre 2011). These comments revealed respondents’ assumptions that only sexual minorities with stereotypical looks or who advertised their sexual orientation would face discrimination. Sexual minority young adults also pointed out that they were different from discrimination victims with regard to their attitudes toward heterosexuals. Specifically, four respondents emphasized that they were more open-minded about heterosexuals than typical sexual minorities. Explaining what she meant by “open-minded,” Alyssa (white, lesbian) gave an example about how she viewed heterosexual people’s gay jokes: “I really don’t mind. I’m not the kind of person that would get offended.” For respondents like Alyssa, being “open-minded” meant overlooking heterosexuals’ offensive behaviors (see similar results in Anderson 2005). These distancing behaviors can be viewed as “defensive othering,” which refers to attempts among members of stigmatized groups to distance themselves from other members (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Past research has documented defensive othering by sexual minority workers (Rumens and Kerfoot 2009) as well as women workers who distance themselves from feminine colleagues (Bird and Rhoton 2011; Rhoton 2011). Generally, people who engage in these behaviors aim to reduce stigma and sustain self-worth, but the present result shows that the behaviors also help marginalized individuals sustain optimistic views about their careers. Overlooking Adaptive Behaviors Seventeen participants (21 percent) denied the risk of facing discrimination by explaining that they had chosen to enter industries that were accepting of sexual minority workers. Jayden (white, gay) explained the importance of such a choice: If you’re going to go work for corporate Chick-fil-A, being a flaming homosexual, you’re not going to get the job. But if you’re working for a doctor or a nurse or something, something more professional, then by all means, your being gay most likely will not affect that. For Jayden, professionalism was a sign for an accepting climate in the industry, which ran counter to past research that documented the persistence of heteronormativity in professional industries (Colgan and Rumens 2014; Rumens and Kerfoot 2009; Woods 1993). Several respondents were seeking careers in cosmetology and creative industries (film, art, music, theater), and they reported that the accepting climates in these industries would minimize any negative impact of sexual minority status. For example, Dayton (black, gay), who planned to be an orchestra musician, joked about his future workplace by saying, “Go through that whole orchestra and say, ‘Raise your hand if you’re a queen.’ Get a whole bunch of them!” Thus, most respondents viewed the concentration of sexual minority workers as a sign of an accepting climate, which would minimize the risk of facing discrimination. Past research described sexual minorities’ decision to enter these gay-friendly industries as a constraint imposed by their sexual orientation, but respondents in this study cited such decisions as a reason for anticipating no career disadvantage. For example, Grace (white, lesbian) commented on her future career by saying, “I’m lucky that something that I’m passionate about happens to be pretty accepting of that” (emphasis added). Although the accepting climate may not have influenced her decision to pursue a career in theater as she suggested, she did not seem to consider whether she would have sustained the passion if the theater had a conservative climate. Alyssa made a similar comment when discussing her future job search process: “I don’t want to work for a very conservative company or that kind of stuff, but I wouldn’t want to do that either way because I’m still a very liberal person, regardless of gay/lesbian rights.” Alyssa thus emphasized her political ideology as the main factor for her career choice and played down the impact of sexual orientation. Similarly, Tommy (white, gay) thought that his sexual orientation had no impact on his career choice to become a cosmetologist, despite the widely held stereotype of gay cosmetologists and his acknowledgement earlier in the interview that the industry was accepting of gay men. Why was it so important to not attribute their career choices to sexual orientation? We do not have sufficient data to answer this question, but one possibility is that they did not want to believe that their stigmatizing attribute (sexual orientation) was driving their future because such an interpretation would undermine their sense of self efficacy (Lehtonen 2008). Therefore, when choosing their careers, these respondents may have considered the extent to which their future industries were accepting of sexual minorities, but they may have downplayed this factor when asked to recall their decision-making process in the interviews. By doing so, they may have underestimated the extent to which their sexual orientation impacted their career plans. Viewing the Target Industry, Workplace, and Hiring Process as Asexual Fourteen respondents described their future industries and workplaces as free of sexual connotations and cited this expectation as a reason why they anticipated no impact of sexual orientation. Unlike those who focused on the accepting climate of their future industry, these respondents believed that sexual orientation—heterosexual or non-heterosexual—would be irrelevant. For example, Tracy (white, bisexual) described her current training in a biology lab by saying, “I feel like in the science field, it’s not that big of a deal … If you think about it, it is very lab based, and there really isn’t much time to interact with one another.” Consequently, she did not anticipate that sexuality would have strong impact on her plan to become a neuroscientist. When explaining that sexuality would not matter for their careers, six participants (18 percent) claimed that work ability eclipsed sexual orientation. Kaleb (white, gay) said, for example, “I just don’t think that [sexual] orientation affects your ability,” revealing his assumption that work ability is the most important factor for his career success. Some respondents mentioned educational and training credentials as the determinant of career attainment. As Danielle (black, lesbian) explained, for example, “passing that test … that’s the big thing with pharmacy.” These respondents thus believed that work abilities and qualifications would be apparent to their employers in the hiring process and would override other personal characteristics such as sexual orientation. As Jayden put it, “[you] get the job because of what your resume said.” These comments clearly disagreed with scholars’ claims that same-sex orientation operates as a “master status” or “diffuse trait” and negatively impacts employers’ perceptions of sexual minorities’ work abilities (Goffman 1963; Johnson 1995; Webster, Hysom, and Fullmer 1998). Two respondents (9 percent) training to become teachers viewed their future occupation as sexuality free for a different reason. They did not necessarily believe that teaching would not involve any sexuality issues, but emphasized that they would be expected to act as an asexual being at work. Rebecca (white, bisexual) elaborated: I have to be more cognizant of how I’m portraying myself, watching what I’m saying … Everyone has to, if you’re a teacher. You can’t be in the classroom cussing, saying whatever. So you have to be really self-aware and know what you’re saying. Her comment thus implied that discussing one’s sexuality was equivalent to cursing in front of students. She summarized the career implication of her sexual orientation by saying, “I don’t think it’s really going to play any role in it … just because I’m keeping my life separate.” Her comment resonated with past research that illustrated teachers’ pressure to suppress their sexuality in schools (Connell 2015). The other respondent training to be a teacher, Kendrick (black, gay), similarly mentioned “professionalism” as a reason for keeping his sexual orientation secret. Past research has shown that this view is common not only among teachers (Connell 2015) but also among people working in other industries (Colgan and Rumens 2014). Even in workplaces accepting of sexual diversity, where sexual minorities can be open about their sexual orientation, they feel the need to tone down their sexual and gender displays to be taken seriously as professional workers and avoid stereotyping (Giuffre et al. 2008; Rumens and Kerfoot 2009). What is interesting in the present analysis of career narratives is that young sexual minorities did not believe that self-monitoring was a cost of non-heterosexual orientation. Instead, they suggested that the occupational field suppressed sexuality and thereby eliminated any negative consequences of being a sexual minority. When making these comments, they emphasized that they would not necessarily want to hide their sexual orientation but would do so because of expectations in the education field as shown in Rebecca’s comment above (“I have to,” “everyone has to,” “you can’t be,” “you have to be”). Perhaps these respondents felt the need to explain why they would violate an expectation in the sexual minority community that everyone should come out and help increase the community’s visibility (Pollner and Rosenfeld 2000). For respondents attending college, perceptions of future industries and workplaces seemed to be tied to their experiences in college, where they found that sexual orientation had no impact on their education and campus life. For example, Helena (white, lesbian) described her undergraduate program in film production by saying, “We are all taught the same, we all have the same classes, we all have to do the same positions (such as director, photographer, and lighting staff), and we all cycle through every position.” These respondents thus did not consider the possibility that college curricula may have heterosexist bias, contrary to a few respondents in our sample who reported such bias as well as some scholars such as Susan Rankin (2003). The data cannot determine whether higher education is sexuality free as these respondents claimed, but it is clear that they had developed and sustained such a narrative, which they expected would extend to their future careers. In short, some respondents emphasized that their future careers would not have a strong sexual element when explaining why they expected no disadvantage of being a sexual minority. Their view ran counter to previous research that emphasized the sexual nature, or more specifically, the heterosexist nature of workplaces (Connell 2015; Dellinger and Williams 2002; Schilt and Westbrook 2009). As with the choice of gay friendly industries, their choice of these industries that they believe were sexuality free may partly reflect their anticipatory adaptations (i.e., selecting themselves into asexual industries to avoid discrimination). Maintaining Hopes and Optimism Instead of describing specific industries as accepting or sexuality free, some participants reported a general sense of trust in the labor market when explaining their perceived lack of career disadvantages. Specifically, ten participants (29 percent) mentioned that discrimination would not occur in today’s labor market. Nelson said, for example, “sexuality is not an issue any more in society,” and Lucas mentioned that “it’s not socially acceptable to out-voice prejudice in the workplace.” These comments not only indicated their optimistic assumption that employers and colleagues would treat them fairly, but the comments also suggested that they did not consider barriers such as institutional-level heterosexist bias (Badgett et al. 2007; Hull 2005; Williams et al. 2009) or persistent binary conceptualization between gay and straight in workplace interactions (Orzechowicz 2010). Some respondents gave examples of prior work experience to support their optimism. For example, Annie (white, bisexual) explained that she was hired despite her hairy legs, which she interpreted as the employer’s open-mindedness regarding worker diversity. These positive experiences in an early career stage seemed to have given sexual minority young adults a sense that they would not encounter discrimination in the future. Not everyone denied the risk of workplace discrimination, however. For example, Sebastian (white, other sexuality) was training to be a cosmetologist and thought about the possibility that his future salon owners may not want him around their children. He believed, however, that he would be able to defend himself by saying, “Well then don’t bring your children to the salon. Give me a job at least.” Like Sebastian, respondents who anticipated discrimination believed they could counter it so that it would not undermine their career chances. All of these respondents were still in college or training programs and may not have considered various barriers to responding to discrimination in the ways they imagined (e.g., risk of alienating colleagues; see Bowen and Blackmon 2003). In addition to a sense of trust in the labor market, a perceived abundance of career opportunities and a perceived lack of barriers seem to have contributed to these young adults’ optimism. Their anticipation of no career disadvantages made sense given this general sense of confidence in career attainment. Seven participants shared such thoughts in the interviews. For example, Carolyn (white, lesbian) said, “Can’t think that I’d have any obstacles,” although she had a competitive goal of becoming a neuroscientist. Similarly, when explaining the prospect of obtaining demography training overseas, Alyssa said, “there are a lot of opportunities for social science majors to go overseas and work with programs and that kind of stuff. So I’m sure I’ll be able to get into one.” She did not seem to consider, however, how competitive these training opportunities might be and how her sexuality might make her vulnerable to discrimination. These young adults’ optimism also seemed to reflect their confidence in their work ability and their general sense of mastery. For example, when discussing his plan to work in student affairs, Jonathon (black, bisexual) said: Because I am determined to make things like that happen, and when things don’t go the way I plan for them to, I tend to be able to work around those obstacles really well. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work out for me. He thus focused on his abilities and inner strengths (“determined,” “able to work around obstacles”) but did not mention external factors such as employer discrimination and workplace discrimination. Similarly, people who had been working full time were not necessarily discouraged by the reality of the labor market. Instead, they had built confidence in their career success so far. For example, Blake shared a story about how he obtained the bank job he had wanted since he was twelve years old: When I graduated from college, it was December 2009, which is probably the worst economic time to graduate from school, and the fact that I was working three days later … granted I was making ten dollars, eleven dollars an hour at the time … It was a job in what I wanted to do. Yeah, I did get the “You’re never going to find a job.” But I did! Throughout the interview, Blake shared many stories of his accomplishments on this job, showing that success served as the major theme in his career narrative. Not everyone had such clear plans or strong confidence in achieving them, however. For example, Adrian (Hispanic, bisexual) said, “I’ve thought about it minimally,” and Tracy said, “I do not have a specific (career plan). It kind of changes a lot.” Interestingly, a lack of clear career plans or a lack of confidence in career attainment did not increase their concerns about how their sexual minority status might negatively impact their careers, but it seemed to help them put off thinking seriously about such consequences. These perceptions of “no impact” were also compatible with participants’ narratives of adolescence. Although many participants pointed out heteronormative aspects of their schools, they did not believe that those aspects had undermined their career planning. Further, nine participants explicitly stated that they were surrounded by friends and peers who accepted their sexual orientation. For example, Alyssa remembered receiving positive responses from her peers about having a girlfriend in the same school: “Mostly people were like, ‘Oh, you’re the cutest couple we know!’ They didn’t really think anything of it.” Furthermore, non-heterosexual orientation was not stigmatized in their high schools, but instead, “it was the hip thing to do” (Katherine, white, unlabeled sexuality), and “everybody was bisexual then” (Tiffany, black, lesbian). Scholars remain critical about heterosexual students’ framing of alternative sexuality as trendy because it tends to perpetuate heteronormativity (Diamond 2005; Hamilton 2007), but these respondents saw it as a sign of acceptance. The stories of acceptance continued into college for those who sought higher education—they emphasized the student diversity and supportive straight peers. Thus, the lack of experience of serious stigma in adolescence and college may have allowed them to develop narratives of “no disadvantage” that they assumed would extend to their future careers. NARRATIVES OF POSITIVE IMPACT Nineteen participants (56 percent) commented that their sexual minority status would enhance their careers. Their explanations addressed three advantages: a strong motivation for career achievement, favorable treatments by employers and bosses, and unique skills and abilities. When discussing these advantages, participants acknowledged that stigma and stereotypes of sexual minorities still exist, but they framed those things as resources for career planning and attainment. Strong Motivations for Career Achievement Four participants positively interpreted sexuality stigma by explaining that it had motivated them to work harder toward their career goals. For example, recalling his isolation from school peers, Blake said, “I just stayed to myself. Actually, I feel that that’s pretty much what caused me to be so successful at school.” Here he focused on the unexpected benefit of his social isolation (his academic achievement) rather than barriers that the isolation might have created (e.g., psychological stress) or resources that he might not have been able to fully develop due to the isolation (e.g., social skills, social ties, articulation of career interests through conversations with peers). These comments resonated with past studies that highlighted sexual minorities’ resilience (Adams et al. 2005; Harris 2014) but ran counter to an argument that stigma in adolescence undermines sexual minorities’ educational preparation and career planning (Mobley and Slaney 1996; Oswalt and Wyatt 2011). In addition to direct experiences of sexuality stigma, participants cited the societal-level stigma as their career motivation. When describing his plan of starting a nonprofit organization, Montell (black, gay) commented, “I would like to set an example for younger gay males that you can be gay. You don’t really see that many gay, black males coming out about them being gay.” Thus, becoming a role model, particularly for black gay men who face more serious stigma, was important motivation for his career success. According to four study participants, sexual minority status also motivated them to pursue specific career paths. For example, Tiffany explained that she became interested in gender and cultural studies in college because of her sexual minority status. Mario (Hispanic, gay) similarly explained his decision to study psychology in college by saying, “I want to be there for people that want to do the same thing as I went through,” referring to his challenges in discovering his sexual orientation and dealing with sexuality stigma. Another respondent, Lucas hoped to become a pharmaceutical researcher and engage in HIV treatment research to help the sexual minority community by serving many community members infected with the virus. Some scholars may view these career choices as constraints imposed by sexuality stigma or internalized stereotypes (Badgett and King 1995; Hewitt 1995), but these respondents did not describe their career choices that way. They instead suggested that their sexual orientation helped them see the significance of these careers. Favorable Treatments for Their Minority Status Seven respondents (21 percent) pointed out a more practical advantage of their sexual orientation—it helped them get jobs. Three of them obtained jobs through sexual minority managers who were aware of the participants’ non-heterosexual orientation (Grace, Nelson, Jayden). Once getting a job, having a sexual minority boss helped them perform job duties and receive recognitions, according to the respondents. For example, Jonathon had worked under two gay supervisors for his current job, and he mentioned that his sexual identity as a gay person “made them feel more connected to me and be more open about things with me.” He thus believed that sharing sexual minority status improved his relationship with his supervisors. Favorable treatments by sexual minority employers and bosses have been mentioned in past studies (e.g., Hewitt 1995), but young adults in this study also mentioned favorable treatments by heterosexual employers and bosses, who they believed would have strong interest in increasing workplace diversity. Jonathon believed that “the whole diversity aspect” was particularly important in his future field—student affairs in higher education—due to the field’s emphasis on serving the diverse student population. He had received a fellowship for being a racial and sexual minority, which seemed to endorse this view. Helena, who was studying to become a film director, gave a similar story about how her sexual minority status provided an advantage in a film festival: “When they find out (about me being a lesbian), they are automatically more interested in (my work).” She shared this story as a reason to expect a positive impact of her sexual orientation on her career. In respondents’ perception, employers’ interest in workplace diversity was not limited to higher education and creative fields but applied more broadly across different fields. For example, Rob (white, gay) described a successful interview he did for a telephone operator job as follows: I was telling them I was gay and stuff, and they were showing me all the things they do to be inclusive and all their equal opportunity laws. So I was like, “This is good. This is going to look good for them that they hired a gay person.” Like Rob, respondents believed that sexual minority status would not only facilitate their job attainment but also help the employer “look good.” Overall, respondents who mentioned their contributions to the sexual diversity in the workplace indicated a strong sense of trust in the labor market, which they believed would value their sexual minority status, instead of stigmatizing it. Unique Skills and Abilities According to six participants, sexual minorities have unique skills and abilities, which would enhance their careers. For example, Andrea (white, other sexuality) and Grace thought that as sexual minorities they had a better ability to understand social inequality issues, and Mario thought that such an ability was particularly important for his field of study—social science. In addition to these students who emphasized unique skills and abilities linked to their minority status, Katherine believed sexual minorities have innate talents; she thought that she was more creative than heterosexual peers and therefore had a better chance of becoming a professional artist. Respondents thus not only believed that sexual minorities had special career-related skills, but also assumed that employers would value those skills instead of showing emotional discomfort or disapproving them on an ideological ground. Some claims about unique skills and abilities focused on gender-atypical ones, and this tendency was stronger among men. For example, Joseph (white, gay) thought that gay men had a better ability than heterosexual men to work with women, which he believed would give him an advantage in a female-dominated field of communication pathology. Similarly, William (black, bisexual) worked in a hotel and believed that he had a special skill to be “extra friendly” to their customers. These respondents further explained that this career advantage partly reflected their willingness to show those skills. For example, Sebastian explained his advantage in cosmetology by saying, “I’m doing hair and nails and makeup, and straight guys are like, ‘I don’t want people to think I’m gay.’” He added that he did not mind showing his feminine side because of his sexual orientation. These respondents thus embraced the stereotypes about sexual minorities and framed them as a career advantage, unlike other respondents who believed that being flamboyant about non-heterosexual orientation increases the risk of work discrimination as discussed earlier. Shelly Correll (2004) demonstrated that people internalize gendered expectations of job competency and make gendered career decisions. Participants in the present study deviated from this pattern because of their gender-atypical career choices, but at the fundamental level, the same process operated because these participants made career choices by drawing on stereotyped job competency for sexual minorities. According to two black gay respondents, this career advantage was particularly strong in their community, contrary to the argument that double minority status increases psychological stress and constrains the career development process (Harris 2014). One of the respondents, Montell, worked in customer service and explained: In my culture, femininity is associated with being gay, but socially, being polite and being courteous and having great spunk and tenacity is great for a job opportunity. I feel like if I was straight, being thugged out and rugged and stuff like that, I wouldn’t be able to embrace that side of being gay. Being able to sit and have a conversation with someone–being able to sell myself on being the best candidate for a job or in school … If I’m sitting with a woman in an interview and she has on nice shoes or she has her hair done, I’ll be able to work my way into our conversation, where I can open her up, and she feels more comfortable with me, just by using a little bit of my gay side … You know, just being able to put stuff out that will make me more marketable. That helps me get a job. Montell thus emphasized that his “polite,” “courteous” mannerisms were an important career advantage over heterosexual black men, who were often perceived as “thugged out.” However, he did not mention the possibility of working with straight male employers or bosses, who may reject feminine men. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS Sexual minorities gave various explanations about why they anticipated no career disadvantages, and a few factors seemed to underlie these explanations. First, as young adults, they had limited work experience and therefore could not foresee how their sexual minority status might impact their careers, as indicated by their naïve or overly optimistic assumptions about the labor market. Such assumptions are common among young adults (Reynolds et. al 2006; Schenider and Stevenson 1999), but the present results showed that for minority groups, the assumptions may involve an underestimation of discrimination risk or a lack of attention to the risk. This unwarranted optimism may explain why none of the respondents was concerned about the economic downturn during the interview period. In fact, one respondent (Blake, as discussed above) built confidence in his career by emphasizing that he attained his dream job despite the downturn. Second, sexual minority young adults’ anticipation of no career disadvantage may have partly reflected the increasing acceptance of alternative sexualities in society (Saad 2012; Seidman 2004). Although heteronormativity persists in schools and family, young people today grow up in a more supportive environment, and some develop a strong sense of trust in society. The present analysis illustrated how this historical context contributed to sexual minorities’ optimistic career plans through the third factor—their effort to sustain personal narratives. Respondents drew on past and present experiences of acceptance and expected that this narrative would continue in the future. In this process, some sexual minorities emphasized the accepting climate in schools, colleges, and workplaces and downplayed or positively framed sexuality stigma. Narrative construction seemed to help sexual minorities sustain a sense of mastery, coherence, and self-esteem (Cohler and Hostetler 2003; Lehtonen 2008). In this sense, narrative construction served as a coping mechanism against stigmatization. By emphasizing the importance of past experience for career planning, we do not intend to suggest that sexual minorities’ optimistic views always reflected positive experience in adolescence. Thirteen participants (38 percent) reported some forms of peer harassment or parental rejection in adolescence, but many of them interpreted these experiences as a motivating factor for career development or derived a sense of resilience from them, thereby developing a belief that their sexual minority status would not create career disadvantages. Further, major life transitions such as leaving high school, starting college, and moving to a more progressive city served as turning points, and their narratives quickly shifted the emphasis from stigma to acceptance once they entered young adulthood. These points demonstrated a key proposition in the life course literature—experiences in a given life stage impact those in the subsequent stages, and certain planned and unplanned events shift these trajectories (Settersten 2007; Shanahan 2000). The present study adds to this literature by highlighting the role of agency in interpreting continuities and discontinuities and by illustrating that for minority groups, continuities and discontinuities in personal narratives may mirror the shifting meaning of minority status across life stages. Sexual minority young adults’ career narratives also underscored the importance of social discourse. When telling narratives that emphasized a lack of disadvantages, sexual minorities drew on discourses that celebrated sexual diversity and the integration of sexuality groups. At the same time, they distanced themselves from the “minority discourse” that focuses on overcoming challenges in heteronormative society (Epstein 1987; Gamson 1995). Under the minority discourse, denying disadvantages signaled one’s lack of commitment to the sexual minority community, but new discourses helped sexual minorities present it as a sign of open-mindedness (Savin-Williams 2005). Their emphasis on success and resilience against stigma also echoed these emerging discourses. These results do not necessarily suggest that sexual minority young adults today are unaware of the minority discourse, however. Some respondents proudly presented their career goal of serving the sexual minority “community,” and others seemed conscious about the expectation to come out at work and increase the community visibility. These results illustrated another point emphasized in the life course literature—historical contexts strongly shape life trajectories (Elder et al. 2003). The study elaborated the point by demonstrating that this process operates through narrative construction—historical contexts determine the availability of social discourses that people can use to interpret past experiences and make future plans. The results call for careful interpretations of previous findings. In quantitative studies, many sexual minority young adults report no career disadvantage relative to heterosexuals (Oswalt and Wyatt 2011; Schneider and Dimito 2010). The present results indicate that some of these people may make career adaptations to reduce the risk of facing discrimination but do not consider such adaptations to be a “negative impact.” Further, some sexual minorities do not necessarily deny the risk of facing discrimination, but they may still feel confident that they can manage it to minimize career consequences. Thus, the high percentage of sexual minorities reporting no disadvantage does not necessarily indicate a declining significance of sexuality stigma but may instead suggest that sexual minorities develop narratives to cope with sexuality stigma. A similar argument can be made for the ongoing debate about whether our society has overcome sexual orientation inequality and allowed sexual minorities to feel they are “beyond closet” (Seidman 2004). The hopeful discourse in the current sexual minority population no doubt reflects the improvement of their social status over time, but it may also be a result of sexual minorities’ attempts of narrative construction at the individual level, which may reinforce the discourse at the collective level. In the present sample, women and men did not show major differences in their explanations regarding career consequences of sexual minority status. This result is interesting given past findings that more serious stigma is attached to men’s non-heterosexual orientation (Herek 2002). In other words, sexual minority men were not any more likely to anticipate workplace discrimination, contrary to scholars’ claims (Badget 2001; Ueno et al. 2013). Like sexual minority women, they felt protected from discrimination and did not experience constraints on career choices. These results may suggest that narrative construction masks potential gender differences in career challenges. Many past studies in this area focused on sexual minorities’ decisions about whether to disclose their sexual orientation at work, so we conducted preliminary analysis to examine whether their disclosure status in their current and previous workplaces and college (for those who attended or attending college) was linked to types of career narratives. The result showed complex patterns. For example, some respondents did not feel comfortable coming out at work due to a discrimination risk as mentioned earlier, but they did not view the adaptation as a negative consequence of their sexual orientation. Others experienced discrimination in high schools or workplaces due to their visibility as sexual minorities, but they still framed the experience as a learning lesson or a motivation. The role of disclosure status in career narrative construction needs to be explored further in future research. The study has a few limitations. First, we interviewed sexual minorities only in one city, and the results cannot be generalized to other areas. Second, the sample included only a few people who had not been to college or had dropped out. Although the present results did not show a clear pattern, some factors suggest that those sexual minorities who did not complete college may have more negative views about how their sexual orientation will impact their careers. For example, without college experience, they may not have had many positive social interactions with heterosexuals from which they could draw their positive narratives. Similarly, they may have limited exposure to social discourses that emphasized sexual diversity and sexuality group integration. In this sense, the present results may overestimate how optimistic sexual minority young adults are about their career prospects. The results have important policy implications. At the societal level, sexual minorities’ effort to downplay disadvantages and emphasize resilience undermines policy makers’ ability to identify sexual minority workers’ needs and facilitate their career development (Fine 2011). At the individual level, anticipating no disadvantage may leave sexual minority young adults unprepared as they enter the labor market. Some will sustain their optimistic narratives either because they do not encounter any disadvantages or because they continue to downplay or justify minor ones. However, others may face major disadvantages that they are unprepared for, and those sexual minority workers may experience dramatic shifts in their narratives. Past research has documented that many young workers go through major changes in career aspirations and priorities after facing the harsh reality in the labor market (Johnson 2001), but for sexual minority workers in particular, these changes may also involve reassessment of discrimination risks. If the risk has been underestimated, young sexual minority workers may be unable to quickly mobilize resources to counter or cope. Further, the shift in their narratives may threaten their sense of mastery, coherence, and trust and cause psychological distress because of the great effort they had put into sustaining their narratives. 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Sexuality-Free Careers? Sexual Minority Young Adults’ Perceived Lack of Labor Market Disadvantages

Social Problems , Volume 65 (3) – Aug 1, 2018

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Abstract

Abstract In recent studies, many young sexual minorities reported that their minority status has not undermined their career plans, despite the persistent heteronormativity in schools, workplaces, and family. By analyzing in-depth interviews of 34 sexual minority young adults, this article examines how they develop such a perception. Their explanations included five elements—distancing themselves from sexual minorities who conformed to stereotypes about the group, overlooking career sacrifices they had already made, anticipating that their future careers would be sexuality free, and maintaining a general sense of hope and optimism. Some respondents even anticipated positive career consequences, pointing to three advantages of sexual minority status, including a strong career motivation, unique skills and abilities, and favorable treatments from employers. We interpret these results by conceptualizing their career plans as a part of their life narratives and discuss the implications for the sexual minority population and for society. work and occupations, life course, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, narratives, young adults Despite the increasing acceptance of sexual diversity in society, people who report a non-heterosexual orientation (“sexual minorities”) continue to face workplace discrimination (Badgett et al. 2007; Hull 2005). As a result, sexual minorities are excluded from certain occupations and concentrated in others (Badgett and King 1995; Hewitt 1995; Ueno, Roach, and Peña-Talamantes 2013). Consistently, some sexual minority young adults report that their sexual orientation has negatively impacted their career plans (Oswalt and Wyatt 2011; Schneider and Dimito 2010). As recent qualitative studies have demonstrated, however, many other sexual minorities believe that their sexual orientation has had either no impact or a positive impact on their career plans (Adams, Cahill, and Ackerlind 2005; Fine 2011; Oswalt and Wyatt 2011; Schneider and Dimito 2010). Extending this literature, the present study aims to gain insights into how sexual minorities develop such optimistic views by analyzing in-depth interviews of 34 sexual minority young adults who were entering or planning for the initial stage of their careers. Studying career plans is important because they not only direct individuals’ career paths but also affect their self-assessment of career success and work satisfaction (Hardie 2014). The topic is also timely in the current social context characterized by rapid changes in the meaning of sexualities (Powell et al. 2010; Seidman 2004) and improvements in legislation and company practices to protect sexual minority workers (Human Rights Campaign 2016; Williams and Giuffre 2011). The study investigates how sexual minorities develop their career plans in this historical context. CAREER NARRATIVES We conceptualize career plans as a part of career narratives (Ezzy 1997), or more broadly, life stories (Cohler and Hostetler 2003). People develop life stories to maintain a sense of coherence and personal continuity, and this process involves interpretations of past and ongoing experiences within specific historical contexts. Career narratives have narrower foci and describe accomplishments, failures, and changes in educational and work histories (Bujold 2004; Heinz 2002; Martin and Majcman 2004). Career narratives not only address past and present experiences but also provide directions for the future by specifying long-term and short-term goals (Ezzy 1997; Heinz 2002). For example, people develop and revise their career plans as they interpret their educational and work progress. In this sense, career narratives present personal accounts about how career plans have emerged and changed. Scholars have argued that the importance of personal narratives for young people has increased in recent years because of the increasing fluidity in the labor market and the increasing individual variations in the life course (Settersten 2007; Shanahan 2000). People exercise personal agency in narrative construction by drawing on, manipulating, and reconstructing discourses available in specific cultural and historical contexts (Cohler and Hostetler 2003). At the collective level, narratives serve to challenge or endorse social institutions (Ewick and Silbey 1995, 2003) and increase the solidarity of participants in political movements (Polletta 1998). Marginalized groups may use narrative construction as a coping strategy, for example, by developing accounts for their disadvantages in society, positively reframing their disadvantages, and giving positive meaning to their future goals undermined by their marginalization in society (Padavic 2005; Sandstrom 1990; Silva 2012). In this article, we seek to demonstrate how sexual minority young adults use career narratives to cope with the stigma attached to non-heterosexual orientations as they draw on current sexuality discourses. In the past, sexual minorities experienced stigmatization in many social spaces, which forced them to develop enclaves for support exchange, socialization, and search of romantic partner while hiding their sexual orientation from people outside the enclaves. Today, people are more accepting of non-heterosexual orientations (Powell et al. 2010; Saad 2012), and many sexual minorities have become integrated into the heterosexual society (Pollner and Rosenfeld 2000; Seidman 2004). In the work domain, anti-discrimination laws have passed in some states, and an increasing number of employers have implemented practices that protect sexual minority workers (Williams and Giuffre 2011), partly as a result of sexual minorities’ collective effort to improve work conditions (Raeburn 2004; Tuttle 2010). These changes have occurred along with the development of discourses that emphasize sexuality group integration and celebrate sexual diversity (Savin-Williams 2005; Seidman 2004). The implications of these new discourses for career narratives are unclear, however. The discourses may promote a sentiment among sexual minorities that their sexual orientation should not matter for occupational careers, thereby inspiring them to take career paths that have been uncommon for the sexual minority population. It is also possible, however, that the new discourses allow sexual minorities to express their unique interests more freely and thus pursue careers that already have a visible presence of sexual minority workers. SEXUAL MINORITIES’ CAREER PLANS Past research on sexual minority workers tended to focus on sexual orientation disclosure and discrimination experience (e.g., Ragins and Cornwell 2001), and young sexual minorities’ career plans have received limited attention from scholars. The little research that exists in this area often emphasizes sexual minorities’ distinct, and sometimes stereotypical, career choices, such as altruistic and nonprofit occupations (Ng, Schweitzer, and Lyons 2012; Lewis 2010) and those that involve art and sociability (Chung and Harmon 1994). It is unclear, however, how these patterns emerge and how sexual minorities explain these career choices. Further, results have been mixed regarding whether sexual minorities perceive their sexual orientation as having positive, negative, or no impact on their career development. In previous studies, some sexual minorities have reported that their non-heterosexual orientation had a negative impact on their career plans. For example, in a survey study of sexual minorities, 24 percent of respondents reported that their sexual orientation had negatively affected their career plans, and about a third said that their orientation had limited career choices (Schneider and Dimito 2010). The study also illustrated an important consequence of discrimination—those who experienced sexuality discrimination were more likely than others to report a strong impact of sexual orientation on their career choices. This finding may indicate that sexual minorities internalize occupational stereotypes through socialization in heteronormative environments (Croteau et al. 2000), or that they enter occupational areas characterized by high concentrations of sexual minority workers, hoping that those occupations will provide a safer work environment (Hewitt 1995). In short, these views about negative impacts emphasize the persistent stigma of non-heterosexual orientation. Contrary to these findings, recent studies show that many sexual minority young adults perceive no impact of their sexual orientation on their careers (Fine 2011; Harris 2014). In a recent in-depth interview study (Adams, Cahill, and Ackerlind 2005), Latino sexual minorities did not believe that their sexual orientations had constrained their career choices. Similarly, in a study conducted at a historically black college, sexual minority students believed that their sexual orientation would not undermine their career achievement and that they had the ability to fight any discrimination that they might face in their future workplaces (Harris 2014). These views may reflect the increasing acceptance of sexual diversity in society, or they may just suggest the general tendency among young adults to have unrealistically optimistic views about their careers (Reynolds et al. 2006; Schneider and Stevenson 1999). This perceived lack of career disadvantages may also be an outcome of sexual minorities’ tendency to downplay negative consequences of their sexual orientation in various aspects of their lives. For example, sexual minority college students ignore past discrimination experiences, expect only a limited level of acceptance from heterosexual peers, and emphasize positive experiences in their campus life (Anderson 2005; Evans 2001; Fine 2011; Ueno and Gentile 2015). Researchers argue that sexual minorities develop these narratives to sustain a sense of self-esteem and trust in others, which would help them reduce psychological stress in their daily encounters of discrimination and heteronormativity. These processes are not unique to sexual minorities. Racial minorities, for example, develop similar narratives to discount negative impacts of their racial background (e.g., Wilkins 2012). In this study, we demonstrate how sexual minority young adults use these types of strategies to negate the potential disadvantages of their non-heterosexual orientation in the labor market. Some sexual minorities not only deny disadvantages linked to their minority status but also believe that it has positive impacts. In Adams and colleagues’ (2005) study, for example, some respondents reported that their minority status had strengthened their ability to make career decisions independently, and others interpreted past discrimination experiences as learning lessons (also see Fine 2011). Further, in Margaret Schneider and Anne Dimito’s study (2010), many sexual minorities (52 percent) noted that their sexual minority status expanded their career options. In the present study, we seek to extend the existing literature in two ways. First, although past quantitative studies have emphasized unique occupational choices among sexual minorities, little is known about how sexual minorities explain these career choices and, more specifically, to what extent they consider these choices to have been limited by their sexual minority status. By analyzing their career narratives, we provide supply-side views on these questions. Second, previous studies have tended to emphasize structural constraints on sexual minorities’ career plans and thus treat them as passive beings. Building on recent qualitative studies (Adams et al. 2005; Fine 2011; Harris 2014), the present study seeks to illustrate how they develop resilience against marginalization through narrative construction and exercise agency by drawing on current social discourses, although we remain critical about the implications of such adaptations for the individual and for society. By demonstrating how sexual orientation is tied to resilience and agency, we also seek to contribute to the broader literature on life course, which emphasizes the importance of these factors for life trajectories (Elder, Johnson, and Crosnoe 2003). METHODS We conducted in-depth interviews with 34 sexual minority young adults in a southeastern city. The city had a liberal political climate although the state had a long tradition of conservative politics. The city culture was oriented toward young adult college students due to several postsecondary institutions in the area, including two universities, a community college, and an institution that offered specialized occupational training. The two universities and government agencies were the biggest employers in the city. The youth-oriented culture and the public-sector job opportunities may have contributed to respondents’ optimistic prospects about their careers. Between 2011 and 2012, we distributed study invitations to young adults in the following places: sociology courses and sexual minority student organizations in the universities and community college in the area, a gay-straight alliance in a high school, and two community organizations that served sexual minorities. To reach out to sexual minorities who did not belong to these institutions and organizations, the invitation asked the e-mail recipients to forward the invitation to others who might be eligible, and existing participants were also asked to distribute the invitation to their friends after their interviews. Participants had to meet the following three criteria: (1) identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual or have attraction to people of the same gender; (2) be between 18 and 25 years old; and (3) live in or near the city where the study took place. After completing 34 interviews, we determined that the data reached saturation—the last few interviews tended to be redundant with previous ones and did not provide new insights. We therefore stopped recruiting respondents at that point. Table 1 summarizes participants’ sociodemographic background. All respondents except three had worked before. Eight respondents were currently employed full time in occupations such as bank employee and cosmetologist, but others had worked only for part-time or temporary jobs such as lifeguard, fast food worker, store clerk, and university orientation staff. The sample included only a small number of respondents who had never attended college or university, partly due to the city’s demographic composition. This sample characteristic also reflected challenges in reaching out to non-student young adults, however. Table 1. Sample Characteristics Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Table 1. Sample Characteristics Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Gender  Women 18  Men 16 Race/ethnicity  White 23  Black 7  Hispanic 3  Others 1 Sexual identity  Gay 11  Lesbian 11  Bisexual 7  Queer 1  Unlabeled 2  Others 2 Highest degree earned so far  High school 24  Associate 6  Bachelor 4 School currently enrolled  Not enrolled 8  Associate 3  Bachelor 20  Master 2  Doctoral 1 Age  Mean 20.7  Min 18  Max 25 N = 34 Interviews took place in a private office at a university, except for one interview conducted at a coffee shop. The interviews were semistructured—we used an interview guide to ask key questions while spontaneously adjusting the questions and asking probing questions to collect information unique to each participant. The interviews covered several major topics, including sexuality, education and training, work, and future plans. We asked respondents about their major events and experiences in chronological order to help respondents tell their life stories from childhood to the future. The data presented in this article came mostly from the section on future plans, which included the following key questions: “Did your sexual orientation have any impact on your future plans?”; (If the plan had changed) “Did your sexual orientation have anything to do with the change in your future plans?”; and “Do you anticipate that sexual orientation will affect your career or job search process? Do you think your sexual orientation will make it easier or harder to achieve your career goals?” For respondents with work history, we also asked, “Have you experienced any advantages or disadvantages for being gay/lesbian/bisexual/(other identity) in your current or previous workplaces and job searches?” Their responses to the question provided important information about their views on future careers. We transcribed the interviews and analyzed the text data by engaging in a series of procedures including initial coding, creating memos, and focused coding (Charmaz 2006). The initial coding identified interview segments indicating participants’ perceptions of positive, negative, or no impact of sexual orientation and helped us generate memos on how participants explained their responses. In this process, we also looked for comments regarding the impact of sexual minority status on school experience in adolescence, previous or current jobs, and college or occupational training because those comments might help us interpret respondents’ perceived impact on career plans. We initially expected that anticipation of career disadvantages would be prevalent among the respondents because many quantitative studies have emphasized sexual minority workers’ challenges in the labor market, but the initial coding of our data revealed this was not the case. For example, none of the respondents reported their sexual minority status limited their occupational choices, although there were two respondents who reported restricted choices regarding workplaces and employers and two other respondents who reported constraints on geographical areas in which they planned to build their careers. Instead, many respondents reported no impact and positive impact. Therefore, we decided to focus on these perceptions that received limited attention in past research. As we analyzed explanations of these perceptions, we came to observe patterns of respondents’ effort to construct narratives. Although a few studies based on in-depth interviews reported sexual minorities’ perceptions of no or positive impact (Adams et al. 2005), they paid little attention to this narrative construction aspect. To gain greater insights, we conducted another round of more detailed coding by classifying these patterns into subthemes (i.e., focused coding). Table 2 presents frequencies of these subthemes. In the section below, we present the detailed results by these subthemes focusing on those for perceptions of no impact and positive impact. Table 2. Frequencies of Major Themes No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 Notes: N = 34. Each frequency shows how many respondents mentioned the theme at least once during the interviews. The frequencies do not add up to the sample size because a given respondent addressed more than one theme. Table 2. Frequencies of Major Themes No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 No impact Distancing from discrimination victims 9 Overlooking adaptive behaviors 17 Viewing careers asexual 14 Maintaining hopes and optimism 24 Any of the above 31 Positive impact Strong motivations for career achievement 7 Favorable treatments for minority status 9 Unique skills and abilities 9 Any of the above 19 Negative impact Gave up careers 1 Experienced work discrimination 3 Anticipating discrimination 7 Limiting workplace choice 2 Limiting location choice 2 Dealing with stereotypes 1 Stress from family responses 3 Any of the Above 16 Notes: N = 34. Each frequency shows how many respondents mentioned the theme at least once during the interviews. The frequencies do not add up to the sample size because a given respondent addressed more than one theme. NARRATIVES OF NO IMPACT At some point during the interview, a majority of respondents (91 percent) mentioned that their sexual minority status would have no impact on their future careers, and their explanations addressed four major themes: distancing themselves from stereotypical sexual minorities, overlooking adaptive behaviors, viewing the target industry as asexual, and maintaining hopes and optimism. As we explain below, these themes differed in the ways respondents denied the risk of workplace discrimination. Distancing from Discrimination Victims Explaining their anticipation of no career disadvantage, nine participants (26 percent) argued that they were not the kind of sexual minorities who encounter workplace discrimination. Seven of these participants described how they differed in their self-presentations of sexual orientation. For example, Clarisa1 1 We use pseudonyms to protect respondents’ confidentiality. (Hispanic, lesbian) anticipated no disadvantage because she did not “look like a typical lesbian.” Some respondents also commented that they were not “loud about sexuality” (Nelson, mixed race, unlabeled sexuality) or “not flamboyant about it” (Chloe, white, bisexual). Similar approaches to sexual identity (i.e., managing the visibility while being out) have been reported in previous studies of workplace interactions (Giuffre, Dellinger, and Williams 2008; Williams and Giuffre 2011). These comments revealed respondents’ assumptions that only sexual minorities with stereotypical looks or who advertised their sexual orientation would face discrimination. Sexual minority young adults also pointed out that they were different from discrimination victims with regard to their attitudes toward heterosexuals. Specifically, four respondents emphasized that they were more open-minded about heterosexuals than typical sexual minorities. Explaining what she meant by “open-minded,” Alyssa (white, lesbian) gave an example about how she viewed heterosexual people’s gay jokes: “I really don’t mind. I’m not the kind of person that would get offended.” For respondents like Alyssa, being “open-minded” meant overlooking heterosexuals’ offensive behaviors (see similar results in Anderson 2005). These distancing behaviors can be viewed as “defensive othering,” which refers to attempts among members of stigmatized groups to distance themselves from other members (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Past research has documented defensive othering by sexual minority workers (Rumens and Kerfoot 2009) as well as women workers who distance themselves from feminine colleagues (Bird and Rhoton 2011; Rhoton 2011). Generally, people who engage in these behaviors aim to reduce stigma and sustain self-worth, but the present result shows that the behaviors also help marginalized individuals sustain optimistic views about their careers. Overlooking Adaptive Behaviors Seventeen participants (21 percent) denied the risk of facing discrimination by explaining that they had chosen to enter industries that were accepting of sexual minority workers. Jayden (white, gay) explained the importance of such a choice: If you’re going to go work for corporate Chick-fil-A, being a flaming homosexual, you’re not going to get the job. But if you’re working for a doctor or a nurse or something, something more professional, then by all means, your being gay most likely will not affect that. For Jayden, professionalism was a sign for an accepting climate in the industry, which ran counter to past research that documented the persistence of heteronormativity in professional industries (Colgan and Rumens 2014; Rumens and Kerfoot 2009; Woods 1993). Several respondents were seeking careers in cosmetology and creative industries (film, art, music, theater), and they reported that the accepting climates in these industries would minimize any negative impact of sexual minority status. For example, Dayton (black, gay), who planned to be an orchestra musician, joked about his future workplace by saying, “Go through that whole orchestra and say, ‘Raise your hand if you’re a queen.’ Get a whole bunch of them!” Thus, most respondents viewed the concentration of sexual minority workers as a sign of an accepting climate, which would minimize the risk of facing discrimination. Past research described sexual minorities’ decision to enter these gay-friendly industries as a constraint imposed by their sexual orientation, but respondents in this study cited such decisions as a reason for anticipating no career disadvantage. For example, Grace (white, lesbian) commented on her future career by saying, “I’m lucky that something that I’m passionate about happens to be pretty accepting of that” (emphasis added). Although the accepting climate may not have influenced her decision to pursue a career in theater as she suggested, she did not seem to consider whether she would have sustained the passion if the theater had a conservative climate. Alyssa made a similar comment when discussing her future job search process: “I don’t want to work for a very conservative company or that kind of stuff, but I wouldn’t want to do that either way because I’m still a very liberal person, regardless of gay/lesbian rights.” Alyssa thus emphasized her political ideology as the main factor for her career choice and played down the impact of sexual orientation. Similarly, Tommy (white, gay) thought that his sexual orientation had no impact on his career choice to become a cosmetologist, despite the widely held stereotype of gay cosmetologists and his acknowledgement earlier in the interview that the industry was accepting of gay men. Why was it so important to not attribute their career choices to sexual orientation? We do not have sufficient data to answer this question, but one possibility is that they did not want to believe that their stigmatizing attribute (sexual orientation) was driving their future because such an interpretation would undermine their sense of self efficacy (Lehtonen 2008). Therefore, when choosing their careers, these respondents may have considered the extent to which their future industries were accepting of sexual minorities, but they may have downplayed this factor when asked to recall their decision-making process in the interviews. By doing so, they may have underestimated the extent to which their sexual orientation impacted their career plans. Viewing the Target Industry, Workplace, and Hiring Process as Asexual Fourteen respondents described their future industries and workplaces as free of sexual connotations and cited this expectation as a reason why they anticipated no impact of sexual orientation. Unlike those who focused on the accepting climate of their future industry, these respondents believed that sexual orientation—heterosexual or non-heterosexual—would be irrelevant. For example, Tracy (white, bisexual) described her current training in a biology lab by saying, “I feel like in the science field, it’s not that big of a deal … If you think about it, it is very lab based, and there really isn’t much time to interact with one another.” Consequently, she did not anticipate that sexuality would have strong impact on her plan to become a neuroscientist. When explaining that sexuality would not matter for their careers, six participants (18 percent) claimed that work ability eclipsed sexual orientation. Kaleb (white, gay) said, for example, “I just don’t think that [sexual] orientation affects your ability,” revealing his assumption that work ability is the most important factor for his career success. Some respondents mentioned educational and training credentials as the determinant of career attainment. As Danielle (black, lesbian) explained, for example, “passing that test … that’s the big thing with pharmacy.” These respondents thus believed that work abilities and qualifications would be apparent to their employers in the hiring process and would override other personal characteristics such as sexual orientation. As Jayden put it, “[you] get the job because of what your resume said.” These comments clearly disagreed with scholars’ claims that same-sex orientation operates as a “master status” or “diffuse trait” and negatively impacts employers’ perceptions of sexual minorities’ work abilities (Goffman 1963; Johnson 1995; Webster, Hysom, and Fullmer 1998). Two respondents (9 percent) training to become teachers viewed their future occupation as sexuality free for a different reason. They did not necessarily believe that teaching would not involve any sexuality issues, but emphasized that they would be expected to act as an asexual being at work. Rebecca (white, bisexual) elaborated: I have to be more cognizant of how I’m portraying myself, watching what I’m saying … Everyone has to, if you’re a teacher. You can’t be in the classroom cussing, saying whatever. So you have to be really self-aware and know what you’re saying. Her comment thus implied that discussing one’s sexuality was equivalent to cursing in front of students. She summarized the career implication of her sexual orientation by saying, “I don’t think it’s really going to play any role in it … just because I’m keeping my life separate.” Her comment resonated with past research that illustrated teachers’ pressure to suppress their sexuality in schools (Connell 2015). The other respondent training to be a teacher, Kendrick (black, gay), similarly mentioned “professionalism” as a reason for keeping his sexual orientation secret. Past research has shown that this view is common not only among teachers (Connell 2015) but also among people working in other industries (Colgan and Rumens 2014). Even in workplaces accepting of sexual diversity, where sexual minorities can be open about their sexual orientation, they feel the need to tone down their sexual and gender displays to be taken seriously as professional workers and avoid stereotyping (Giuffre et al. 2008; Rumens and Kerfoot 2009). What is interesting in the present analysis of career narratives is that young sexual minorities did not believe that self-monitoring was a cost of non-heterosexual orientation. Instead, they suggested that the occupational field suppressed sexuality and thereby eliminated any negative consequences of being a sexual minority. When making these comments, they emphasized that they would not necessarily want to hide their sexual orientation but would do so because of expectations in the education field as shown in Rebecca’s comment above (“I have to,” “everyone has to,” “you can’t be,” “you have to be”). Perhaps these respondents felt the need to explain why they would violate an expectation in the sexual minority community that everyone should come out and help increase the community’s visibility (Pollner and Rosenfeld 2000). For respondents attending college, perceptions of future industries and workplaces seemed to be tied to their experiences in college, where they found that sexual orientation had no impact on their education and campus life. For example, Helena (white, lesbian) described her undergraduate program in film production by saying, “We are all taught the same, we all have the same classes, we all have to do the same positions (such as director, photographer, and lighting staff), and we all cycle through every position.” These respondents thus did not consider the possibility that college curricula may have heterosexist bias, contrary to a few respondents in our sample who reported such bias as well as some scholars such as Susan Rankin (2003). The data cannot determine whether higher education is sexuality free as these respondents claimed, but it is clear that they had developed and sustained such a narrative, which they expected would extend to their future careers. In short, some respondents emphasized that their future careers would not have a strong sexual element when explaining why they expected no disadvantage of being a sexual minority. Their view ran counter to previous research that emphasized the sexual nature, or more specifically, the heterosexist nature of workplaces (Connell 2015; Dellinger and Williams 2002; Schilt and Westbrook 2009). As with the choice of gay friendly industries, their choice of these industries that they believe were sexuality free may partly reflect their anticipatory adaptations (i.e., selecting themselves into asexual industries to avoid discrimination). Maintaining Hopes and Optimism Instead of describing specific industries as accepting or sexuality free, some participants reported a general sense of trust in the labor market when explaining their perceived lack of career disadvantages. Specifically, ten participants (29 percent) mentioned that discrimination would not occur in today’s labor market. Nelson said, for example, “sexuality is not an issue any more in society,” and Lucas mentioned that “it’s not socially acceptable to out-voice prejudice in the workplace.” These comments not only indicated their optimistic assumption that employers and colleagues would treat them fairly, but the comments also suggested that they did not consider barriers such as institutional-level heterosexist bias (Badgett et al. 2007; Hull 2005; Williams et al. 2009) or persistent binary conceptualization between gay and straight in workplace interactions (Orzechowicz 2010). Some respondents gave examples of prior work experience to support their optimism. For example, Annie (white, bisexual) explained that she was hired despite her hairy legs, which she interpreted as the employer’s open-mindedness regarding worker diversity. These positive experiences in an early career stage seemed to have given sexual minority young adults a sense that they would not encounter discrimination in the future. Not everyone denied the risk of workplace discrimination, however. For example, Sebastian (white, other sexuality) was training to be a cosmetologist and thought about the possibility that his future salon owners may not want him around their children. He believed, however, that he would be able to defend himself by saying, “Well then don’t bring your children to the salon. Give me a job at least.” Like Sebastian, respondents who anticipated discrimination believed they could counter it so that it would not undermine their career chances. All of these respondents were still in college or training programs and may not have considered various barriers to responding to discrimination in the ways they imagined (e.g., risk of alienating colleagues; see Bowen and Blackmon 2003). In addition to a sense of trust in the labor market, a perceived abundance of career opportunities and a perceived lack of barriers seem to have contributed to these young adults’ optimism. Their anticipation of no career disadvantages made sense given this general sense of confidence in career attainment. Seven participants shared such thoughts in the interviews. For example, Carolyn (white, lesbian) said, “Can’t think that I’d have any obstacles,” although she had a competitive goal of becoming a neuroscientist. Similarly, when explaining the prospect of obtaining demography training overseas, Alyssa said, “there are a lot of opportunities for social science majors to go overseas and work with programs and that kind of stuff. So I’m sure I’ll be able to get into one.” She did not seem to consider, however, how competitive these training opportunities might be and how her sexuality might make her vulnerable to discrimination. These young adults’ optimism also seemed to reflect their confidence in their work ability and their general sense of mastery. For example, when discussing his plan to work in student affairs, Jonathon (black, bisexual) said: Because I am determined to make things like that happen, and when things don’t go the way I plan for them to, I tend to be able to work around those obstacles really well. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work out for me. He thus focused on his abilities and inner strengths (“determined,” “able to work around obstacles”) but did not mention external factors such as employer discrimination and workplace discrimination. Similarly, people who had been working full time were not necessarily discouraged by the reality of the labor market. Instead, they had built confidence in their career success so far. For example, Blake shared a story about how he obtained the bank job he had wanted since he was twelve years old: When I graduated from college, it was December 2009, which is probably the worst economic time to graduate from school, and the fact that I was working three days later … granted I was making ten dollars, eleven dollars an hour at the time … It was a job in what I wanted to do. Yeah, I did get the “You’re never going to find a job.” But I did! Throughout the interview, Blake shared many stories of his accomplishments on this job, showing that success served as the major theme in his career narrative. Not everyone had such clear plans or strong confidence in achieving them, however. For example, Adrian (Hispanic, bisexual) said, “I’ve thought about it minimally,” and Tracy said, “I do not have a specific (career plan). It kind of changes a lot.” Interestingly, a lack of clear career plans or a lack of confidence in career attainment did not increase their concerns about how their sexual minority status might negatively impact their careers, but it seemed to help them put off thinking seriously about such consequences. These perceptions of “no impact” were also compatible with participants’ narratives of adolescence. Although many participants pointed out heteronormative aspects of their schools, they did not believe that those aspects had undermined their career planning. Further, nine participants explicitly stated that they were surrounded by friends and peers who accepted their sexual orientation. For example, Alyssa remembered receiving positive responses from her peers about having a girlfriend in the same school: “Mostly people were like, ‘Oh, you’re the cutest couple we know!’ They didn’t really think anything of it.” Furthermore, non-heterosexual orientation was not stigmatized in their high schools, but instead, “it was the hip thing to do” (Katherine, white, unlabeled sexuality), and “everybody was bisexual then” (Tiffany, black, lesbian). Scholars remain critical about heterosexual students’ framing of alternative sexuality as trendy because it tends to perpetuate heteronormativity (Diamond 2005; Hamilton 2007), but these respondents saw it as a sign of acceptance. The stories of acceptance continued into college for those who sought higher education—they emphasized the student diversity and supportive straight peers. Thus, the lack of experience of serious stigma in adolescence and college may have allowed them to develop narratives of “no disadvantage” that they assumed would extend to their future careers. NARRATIVES OF POSITIVE IMPACT Nineteen participants (56 percent) commented that their sexual minority status would enhance their careers. Their explanations addressed three advantages: a strong motivation for career achievement, favorable treatments by employers and bosses, and unique skills and abilities. When discussing these advantages, participants acknowledged that stigma and stereotypes of sexual minorities still exist, but they framed those things as resources for career planning and attainment. Strong Motivations for Career Achievement Four participants positively interpreted sexuality stigma by explaining that it had motivated them to work harder toward their career goals. For example, recalling his isolation from school peers, Blake said, “I just stayed to myself. Actually, I feel that that’s pretty much what caused me to be so successful at school.” Here he focused on the unexpected benefit of his social isolation (his academic achievement) rather than barriers that the isolation might have created (e.g., psychological stress) or resources that he might not have been able to fully develop due to the isolation (e.g., social skills, social ties, articulation of career interests through conversations with peers). These comments resonated with past studies that highlighted sexual minorities’ resilience (Adams et al. 2005; Harris 2014) but ran counter to an argument that stigma in adolescence undermines sexual minorities’ educational preparation and career planning (Mobley and Slaney 1996; Oswalt and Wyatt 2011). In addition to direct experiences of sexuality stigma, participants cited the societal-level stigma as their career motivation. When describing his plan of starting a nonprofit organization, Montell (black, gay) commented, “I would like to set an example for younger gay males that you can be gay. You don’t really see that many gay, black males coming out about them being gay.” Thus, becoming a role model, particularly for black gay men who face more serious stigma, was important motivation for his career success. According to four study participants, sexual minority status also motivated them to pursue specific career paths. For example, Tiffany explained that she became interested in gender and cultural studies in college because of her sexual minority status. Mario (Hispanic, gay) similarly explained his decision to study psychology in college by saying, “I want to be there for people that want to do the same thing as I went through,” referring to his challenges in discovering his sexual orientation and dealing with sexuality stigma. Another respondent, Lucas hoped to become a pharmaceutical researcher and engage in HIV treatment research to help the sexual minority community by serving many community members infected with the virus. Some scholars may view these career choices as constraints imposed by sexuality stigma or internalized stereotypes (Badgett and King 1995; Hewitt 1995), but these respondents did not describe their career choices that way. They instead suggested that their sexual orientation helped them see the significance of these careers. Favorable Treatments for Their Minority Status Seven respondents (21 percent) pointed out a more practical advantage of their sexual orientation—it helped them get jobs. Three of them obtained jobs through sexual minority managers who were aware of the participants’ non-heterosexual orientation (Grace, Nelson, Jayden). Once getting a job, having a sexual minority boss helped them perform job duties and receive recognitions, according to the respondents. For example, Jonathon had worked under two gay supervisors for his current job, and he mentioned that his sexual identity as a gay person “made them feel more connected to me and be more open about things with me.” He thus believed that sharing sexual minority status improved his relationship with his supervisors. Favorable treatments by sexual minority employers and bosses have been mentioned in past studies (e.g., Hewitt 1995), but young adults in this study also mentioned favorable treatments by heterosexual employers and bosses, who they believed would have strong interest in increasing workplace diversity. Jonathon believed that “the whole diversity aspect” was particularly important in his future field—student affairs in higher education—due to the field’s emphasis on serving the diverse student population. He had received a fellowship for being a racial and sexual minority, which seemed to endorse this view. Helena, who was studying to become a film director, gave a similar story about how her sexual minority status provided an advantage in a film festival: “When they find out (about me being a lesbian), they are automatically more interested in (my work).” She shared this story as a reason to expect a positive impact of her sexual orientation on her career. In respondents’ perception, employers’ interest in workplace diversity was not limited to higher education and creative fields but applied more broadly across different fields. For example, Rob (white, gay) described a successful interview he did for a telephone operator job as follows: I was telling them I was gay and stuff, and they were showing me all the things they do to be inclusive and all their equal opportunity laws. So I was like, “This is good. This is going to look good for them that they hired a gay person.” Like Rob, respondents believed that sexual minority status would not only facilitate their job attainment but also help the employer “look good.” Overall, respondents who mentioned their contributions to the sexual diversity in the workplace indicated a strong sense of trust in the labor market, which they believed would value their sexual minority status, instead of stigmatizing it. Unique Skills and Abilities According to six participants, sexual minorities have unique skills and abilities, which would enhance their careers. For example, Andrea (white, other sexuality) and Grace thought that as sexual minorities they had a better ability to understand social inequality issues, and Mario thought that such an ability was particularly important for his field of study—social science. In addition to these students who emphasized unique skills and abilities linked to their minority status, Katherine believed sexual minorities have innate talents; she thought that she was more creative than heterosexual peers and therefore had a better chance of becoming a professional artist. Respondents thus not only believed that sexual minorities had special career-related skills, but also assumed that employers would value those skills instead of showing emotional discomfort or disapproving them on an ideological ground. Some claims about unique skills and abilities focused on gender-atypical ones, and this tendency was stronger among men. For example, Joseph (white, gay) thought that gay men had a better ability than heterosexual men to work with women, which he believed would give him an advantage in a female-dominated field of communication pathology. Similarly, William (black, bisexual) worked in a hotel and believed that he had a special skill to be “extra friendly” to their customers. These respondents further explained that this career advantage partly reflected their willingness to show those skills. For example, Sebastian explained his advantage in cosmetology by saying, “I’m doing hair and nails and makeup, and straight guys are like, ‘I don’t want people to think I’m gay.’” He added that he did not mind showing his feminine side because of his sexual orientation. These respondents thus embraced the stereotypes about sexual minorities and framed them as a career advantage, unlike other respondents who believed that being flamboyant about non-heterosexual orientation increases the risk of work discrimination as discussed earlier. Shelly Correll (2004) demonstrated that people internalize gendered expectations of job competency and make gendered career decisions. Participants in the present study deviated from this pattern because of their gender-atypical career choices, but at the fundamental level, the same process operated because these participants made career choices by drawing on stereotyped job competency for sexual minorities. According to two black gay respondents, this career advantage was particularly strong in their community, contrary to the argument that double minority status increases psychological stress and constrains the career development process (Harris 2014). One of the respondents, Montell, worked in customer service and explained: In my culture, femininity is associated with being gay, but socially, being polite and being courteous and having great spunk and tenacity is great for a job opportunity. I feel like if I was straight, being thugged out and rugged and stuff like that, I wouldn’t be able to embrace that side of being gay. Being able to sit and have a conversation with someone–being able to sell myself on being the best candidate for a job or in school … If I’m sitting with a woman in an interview and she has on nice shoes or she has her hair done, I’ll be able to work my way into our conversation, where I can open her up, and she feels more comfortable with me, just by using a little bit of my gay side … You know, just being able to put stuff out that will make me more marketable. That helps me get a job. Montell thus emphasized that his “polite,” “courteous” mannerisms were an important career advantage over heterosexual black men, who were often perceived as “thugged out.” However, he did not mention the possibility of working with straight male employers or bosses, who may reject feminine men. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS Sexual minorities gave various explanations about why they anticipated no career disadvantages, and a few factors seemed to underlie these explanations. First, as young adults, they had limited work experience and therefore could not foresee how their sexual minority status might impact their careers, as indicated by their naïve or overly optimistic assumptions about the labor market. Such assumptions are common among young adults (Reynolds et. al 2006; Schenider and Stevenson 1999), but the present results showed that for minority groups, the assumptions may involve an underestimation of discrimination risk or a lack of attention to the risk. This unwarranted optimism may explain why none of the respondents was concerned about the economic downturn during the interview period. In fact, one respondent (Blake, as discussed above) built confidence in his career by emphasizing that he attained his dream job despite the downturn. Second, sexual minority young adults’ anticipation of no career disadvantage may have partly reflected the increasing acceptance of alternative sexualities in society (Saad 2012; Seidman 2004). Although heteronormativity persists in schools and family, young people today grow up in a more supportive environment, and some develop a strong sense of trust in society. The present analysis illustrated how this historical context contributed to sexual minorities’ optimistic career plans through the third factor—their effort to sustain personal narratives. Respondents drew on past and present experiences of acceptance and expected that this narrative would continue in the future. In this process, some sexual minorities emphasized the accepting climate in schools, colleges, and workplaces and downplayed or positively framed sexuality stigma. Narrative construction seemed to help sexual minorities sustain a sense of mastery, coherence, and self-esteem (Cohler and Hostetler 2003; Lehtonen 2008). In this sense, narrative construction served as a coping mechanism against stigmatization. By emphasizing the importance of past experience for career planning, we do not intend to suggest that sexual minorities’ optimistic views always reflected positive experience in adolescence. Thirteen participants (38 percent) reported some forms of peer harassment or parental rejection in adolescence, but many of them interpreted these experiences as a motivating factor for career development or derived a sense of resilience from them, thereby developing a belief that their sexual minority status would not create career disadvantages. Further, major life transitions such as leaving high school, starting college, and moving to a more progressive city served as turning points, and their narratives quickly shifted the emphasis from stigma to acceptance once they entered young adulthood. These points demonstrated a key proposition in the life course literature—experiences in a given life stage impact those in the subsequent stages, and certain planned and unplanned events shift these trajectories (Settersten 2007; Shanahan 2000). The present study adds to this literature by highlighting the role of agency in interpreting continuities and discontinuities and by illustrating that for minority groups, continuities and discontinuities in personal narratives may mirror the shifting meaning of minority status across life stages. Sexual minority young adults’ career narratives also underscored the importance of social discourse. When telling narratives that emphasized a lack of disadvantages, sexual minorities drew on discourses that celebrated sexual diversity and the integration of sexuality groups. At the same time, they distanced themselves from the “minority discourse” that focuses on overcoming challenges in heteronormative society (Epstein 1987; Gamson 1995). Under the minority discourse, denying disadvantages signaled one’s lack of commitment to the sexual minority community, but new discourses helped sexual minorities present it as a sign of open-mindedness (Savin-Williams 2005). Their emphasis on success and resilience against stigma also echoed these emerging discourses. These results do not necessarily suggest that sexual minority young adults today are unaware of the minority discourse, however. Some respondents proudly presented their career goal of serving the sexual minority “community,” and others seemed conscious about the expectation to come out at work and increase the community visibility. These results illustrated another point emphasized in the life course literature—historical contexts strongly shape life trajectories (Elder et al. 2003). The study elaborated the point by demonstrating that this process operates through narrative construction—historical contexts determine the availability of social discourses that people can use to interpret past experiences and make future plans. The results call for careful interpretations of previous findings. In quantitative studies, many sexual minority young adults report no career disadvantage relative to heterosexuals (Oswalt and Wyatt 2011; Schneider and Dimito 2010). The present results indicate that some of these people may make career adaptations to reduce the risk of facing discrimination but do not consider such adaptations to be a “negative impact.” Further, some sexual minorities do not necessarily deny the risk of facing discrimination, but they may still feel confident that they can manage it to minimize career consequences. Thus, the high percentage of sexual minorities reporting no disadvantage does not necessarily indicate a declining significance of sexuality stigma but may instead suggest that sexual minorities develop narratives to cope with sexuality stigma. A similar argument can be made for the ongoing debate about whether our society has overcome sexual orientation inequality and allowed sexual minorities to feel they are “beyond closet” (Seidman 2004). The hopeful discourse in the current sexual minority population no doubt reflects the improvement of their social status over time, but it may also be a result of sexual minorities’ attempts of narrative construction at the individual level, which may reinforce the discourse at the collective level. In the present sample, women and men did not show major differences in their explanations regarding career consequences of sexual minority status. This result is interesting given past findings that more serious stigma is attached to men’s non-heterosexual orientation (Herek 2002). In other words, sexual minority men were not any more likely to anticipate workplace discrimination, contrary to scholars’ claims (Badget 2001; Ueno et al. 2013). Like sexual minority women, they felt protected from discrimination and did not experience constraints on career choices. These results may suggest that narrative construction masks potential gender differences in career challenges. Many past studies in this area focused on sexual minorities’ decisions about whether to disclose their sexual orientation at work, so we conducted preliminary analysis to examine whether their disclosure status in their current and previous workplaces and college (for those who attended or attending college) was linked to types of career narratives. The result showed complex patterns. For example, some respondents did not feel comfortable coming out at work due to a discrimination risk as mentioned earlier, but they did not view the adaptation as a negative consequence of their sexual orientation. Others experienced discrimination in high schools or workplaces due to their visibility as sexual minorities, but they still framed the experience as a learning lesson or a motivation. The role of disclosure status in career narrative construction needs to be explored further in future research. The study has a few limitations. First, we interviewed sexual minorities only in one city, and the results cannot be generalized to other areas. Second, the sample included only a few people who had not been to college or had dropped out. Although the present results did not show a clear pattern, some factors suggest that those sexual minorities who did not complete college may have more negative views about how their sexual orientation will impact their careers. For example, without college experience, they may not have had many positive social interactions with heterosexuals from which they could draw their positive narratives. Similarly, they may have limited exposure to social discourses that emphasized sexual diversity and sexuality group integration. In this sense, the present results may overestimate how optimistic sexual minority young adults are about their career prospects. The results have important policy implications. At the societal level, sexual minorities’ effort to downplay disadvantages and emphasize resilience undermines policy makers’ ability to identify sexual minority workers’ needs and facilitate their career development (Fine 2011). At the individual level, anticipating no disadvantage may leave sexual minority young adults unprepared as they enter the labor market. Some will sustain their optimistic narratives either because they do not encounter any disadvantages or because they continue to downplay or justify minor ones. However, others may face major disadvantages that they are unprepared for, and those sexual minority workers may experience dramatic shifts in their narratives. Past research has documented that many young workers go through major changes in career aspirations and priorities after facing the harsh reality in the labor market (Johnson 2001), but for sexual minority workers in particular, these changes may also involve reassessment of discrimination risks. If the risk has been underestimated, young sexual minority workers may be unable to quickly mobilize resources to counter or cope. Further, the shift in their narratives may threaten their sense of mastery, coherence, and trust and cause psychological distress because of the great effort they had put into sustaining their narratives. 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Social ProblemsOxford University Press

Published: Aug 1, 2018

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