The St. George Wharf Tower in London in 2016. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The good news for gay men? A new analysis of U.K. data shows they are more likely to be supervisors and managers than their straight counterparts.

The bad news? Gay men are far more likely (7.9 percentage points, to be exact) to be stuck in low-level management jobs at the bottom of the organization chart or at smaller, less prestigious organizations — the shift manager at a retail store, for example. They’re significantly less likely (2.2 percentage points) than straight men to be high-level managers — the people who run trading floors and manage entire regions.

The worst news? Gay men of color are hit hardest. They face an even worse disparity than you’d expect based on adding the gap for gay men to that for men from racial minorities.


To map these glass ceilings, researchers in Britain analyzed the responses of more than 645,000 working age adults to the annual U.K. Integrated Household Survey from 2009 to 2014.

Thanks to the survey’s size, it included more than 6,000 respondents who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Combined with the U.K. survey’s detailed questions about management responsibility and sexual orientation, the large sample allowed for analysis which would not be possible in the U.S.

“I’ve written in this literature for a long time,” author Christopher Carpenter, a Vanderbilt University economist, said. “Those samples are ten times larger than what most surveys will give you.”

The researchers also found that women and minorities in the U.K. faced similar-glass ceiling effects to those  in the U.S. That suggests the gay glass ceiling discovered in the U.K. study may be similar for gay men in America.

'It's possible society holds gay men to a higher standard'

Gay men typically don’t get as far as straight men with similar skills and qualifications, the analysis shows. Seventy percent of gay men in top management positions have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 57 percent of straight men.

After accounting for other possible reasons for the disparity including education, race, ethnicity, location, family status and occupation, the researchers concluded (based on established statistical methodology) that the most likely explanation is good old fashioned discrimination.

“It’s possible society holds gay men to a higher standard,” Carpenter said. “Gay men really have to get a ton of education to overcome the disadvantage in the workplace that comes with being gay.”

By way of explanation, the authors suggested that the stereotypes of successful manager and gay man may not have much overlap.

“Gay men may be penalized for not being perceived to have the stereotypically male heterosexual traits thought to be required among managers,” they write.

Hitting the glass ceiling

The glass ceiling may lead to gay men earning less than they should. Not surprisingly,  high-level management tends to be more lucrative. Male high-level managers earn 43 percent more than similar men without managerial positions, while lower-level managers only earn about 16 percent more.

It also helps to perpetuate existing inequalities. While there has not been direct analysis of LGBTQ managers, research has shown that having more females in senior management positions leads to better treatment of women (and a lower earnings gap) throughout the organization.

The authors suggest increasing senior management representation could also help gay men avoid harassment and discrimination that they might otherwise face in the workplace.

The study is complicated somewhat because homosexual men and women in the U.K. were more likely to be employed, younger, childless and educated than their straight counterparts, but Carpenter and his collaborators — lead author Cevat Giray Aksoy (economist, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), Jefferson Frank (economist, University of London) and Matt Huffman (sociologist, University of California — Irvine) — controlled for these factors.

While researchers found less evidence of a glass ceiling for lesbians compared to other working women, Carpenter pointed out that it’s hard to get a direct comparison because of the many forces, particularly family responsibilities, that can keep some straight women out of the labor force.

Bisexual men and women are less likely to be supervisors or managers at any level, though their lower numbers made it harder to reach significant conclusions.