Abstract: Understanding Job-Seeking Experiences of Transgender Adults in South Korea (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Understanding Job-Seeking Experiences of Transgender Adults in South Korea

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jimin Sung, Master's student, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of (South)
Min Ah Kim, PhD, Associate Professor, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of (South)
Background and Purpose: Having a transgender identity is highly stigmatized and can make it difficult to fit into the job market in South Korean society, where gender binary beliefs and negative prejudices against transgender identity exist. Although seeking quality jobs and securing long-term employment are essential for quality of life, transgender people are discriminated against and excluded from many mainstream jobs. However, their job-seeking experiences have not been understood. This study aimed to understand the experiences of transgender individuals when seeking jobs in South Korea using a qualitative approach.

Methods: Twelve adults who self-identified as transgender and had experiences of job seeking were recruited through purposive and snowball sampling from support groups and advocacy organizations for transgender individuals in South Korea. The age of participants ranged from 21 to 36 years. Six identified their gender as male-to-female transgender, five identified as nonbinary, and one identified as female-to-male transgender. All participants were single except two, who were living with a partner. Four were not employed and eight (two freelancers, one self-employed, and five full-time workers) were working in various settings. In-depth interviews were conducted using semistructured questions on their job-seeking experience and the impact of gender identity on their career choices. Following the steps of thematic analysis, we became familiar with the interview data, generated initial codes, searched for themes, and reviewed and defined themes.

Results: Three themes and nine subthemes were identified: (a) limiting myself in job search (seeking jobs without interaction with people, seeking jobs where gender identity is not specified, and seeking workplace that does not discriminate against transgender persons); (b) challenges in the job application and interview process (concern about gender pronouns and gender-based expectations, enduring stress from covering authentic selves, and not being hired when coming out or having transgender identity discovered); and (c) having a desire for building a meaningful career (stepping up to be a role model, contributing to the queer community, and creating an transgender-inclusive workplace). Participants self-limited their options for employment in favor of gender-neutral jobs or transgender-inclusive work environments. In the job-seeking process, they faced multiple challenges due to the rigid binary gender roles and negative stereotypes of transgender identity, and they often did not get hired. Although participants experienced stress and identity-related conflict, they also expressed a fulfilling desire to overcome challenges, build a meaningful career, and flourish at work with their transgender identity.

Conclusion and Implications: This study highlights the challenges transgender individuals faced in their journey of job seeking and how having a trans identity affected their occupational choices and career development. They experienced not only frustration and intimidation from the hostile attitudes against transgender individuals in the job market but also growth from stressful circumstances to build more trans-inclusive work environments. Psychosocial interventions and career support services should help transgender individuals who experience overwhelming stress during the job-seeking process identify their unique needs for employment and cope with stigma. More career opportunities and trans-friendly workplaces should be provided to support transgender people with better quality of life.