A new study says managers of both genders have a hard-wired bias toward hiring men.
Indeed, the research, compiled by business profs at Northwestern University, University of Chicago and Columbia University, showed that managers of both sexes are twice as likely to hire men. The full study, How Stereotypes Impair Women’s Careers in Science, was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Will Yakowicz, writing on Inc.com, summed up the research thusly:
The study … asked male and female managers to recruit people to handle simple mathematical tasks. The applicants had equal skills, but managers of both genders were more likely to hire men.
The male candidates boasted about their abilities, while women downplayed their talents, but the managers didn’t compensate for the difference when making hiring decisions. When the managers were explicitly shown the women could perform the tasks just as well as the men, the result was still that men were 1.5 times more likely to be hired.
Even worse, when managers hired a job applicant who performed worse on the test than a fellow candidate, two-thirds of the time the lesser candidate was a man.
Changing the landscape
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of what’s described as a “gender consulting firm,” 20-first, says awareness of our biases is the key step to changing the male-dominated hiring mindset.
“Companies get the women – and leaders – they design. Ignoring our biases simply lets the dominant group continue to dominate. The only way out is embracing our unconscious judgments,” she wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post.
Highlights of Wittenberg-Cox’s suggestions for employers:
- Make it about business, not gender. Obviously, an inherent bias against women is going to cost companies valuable talent in the long run. “Even if hiring managers are choosing equally qualified men, if they’re doing it in dramatically greater numbers (as the study shows they do), the company is still missing an opportunity,” Wittenberg-Cox wrote.
- Make it everybody’s problem. Often, Wittenberg-Cox says companies spend most of their effort trying to “fix” women rather than adjusting the attitudes of managers. “Get leaders to understand their own unconscious preferences in gender issues and learn how to achieve the balance they say they want,” she suggests.