Over the rainbow – language ideologies of the LGBT call center agents’ communicative practices

Author: Johanna Woydack (Vienna University of Business and Economics)
Speaker: Johanna Woydack
Topic: Language ideologies
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


In the past twenty years, call centers have become iconic for various aspects of the new workplace, ranging from the use of telephone scripting to their extensive use of surveillance. These aspects of call center work, including the overtly-feminized speech used in calling scripts because women are thought to be better at talking and emotional labor than men, and hiring women over men as call center agents because of their supposedly better communication skills, have been documented widely in the mostly critical academic literature (e.g. Cameron 2000; Belt, Richardson, and Webster 2002). With the exception of a few studies, little remains known about the strong LGBT tradition and community that exists in call centers in various countries. Drawing on two case studies, the first being a call center in London and the second in Manila in the Philippines, this study aims to close this gap. Methodologically, over three years of participant observation was conducted and over seventy interviews with staff (current and/ex-agents, managers) were conducted in the London call center. Twenty interviews were conducted with call center agents in Manila and one day of participant observation. This paper firstly shows how in call centers LGBT culture has a strong presence with openly gay and lesbian agents tolerated and embraced. Secondly, this paper explores the language ideologies and beliefs that call center employees have about LGBT communicative styles and them being naturally good at working on the phone. These are in fact similar to the language ideologies which have been previously shown about women’s supposedly having better communication skills and higher aptitude at performing emotional labor. Finally, the paper shows how the stigma that LGBTs still experience is extended to call center work as whole.


Belt, Vicki, Ranald Richardson, and Juliet Webster 2002 Women, Social Skill and Interactive Service Work in Telephone Call Centres. New Technology, Work and Employment 17(1): 20–34.

Cameron, Deborah 2000 Styling the Worker: Gender and the Commodification of Language in the Globalized Service Economy. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4(3): 323–347.

Keywords: call centers, language ideologies, emotional labour, language and gender, language at work