Gender Bias in the Hiring Process

According to a recent study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, managers of both sexes are twice as likely to hire a male than a female candidate.

The study, which was conducted by business-school professors from Columbia University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago, as managers, both male and female, to hire people to handle basic mathematical tasks. The candidates all has equal credentials and skills, but managers of both genders were more likely to hire men.

Throughout the interviews, it was seen that the male candidates boasted about their abilities, while women downplayed them. Even in instances where the tasks were performed equally, men were still more likely to be hired. And what’s worse is, when women were proven to perform better than males, men were still more likely to be hired.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, the CEO of gender consulting firm 20-first and author of How Women Mean Business, writes in the Harvard Business Review that this is a typical example of the hiring process.

“Until hiring and promotion practices change, women can ‘lean in’ all they like, graduate in record numbers from top universities, and dominate buying decisions–but they still are much less likely to make it to the top,” Wittenberg-Cox writes in HBR. “The corporate world is led by men confident that they are identifying talent objectively and effectively. The reality, underlined by this and many other reports, is that decision making about talent is rife with unconscious assumptions and personal biases.”

Wittenberg-Cox gives three examples that could help end the gender bias in the hiring process.

Make gender bias a business issue.

If the results of the test don’t bother you initially, think about the fact that underqualified men were hired over more talented women. Wittenberg-Cox says you should reframe gender bias as a business issue, not a women’s issue. “If managers are choosing less qualified men over more qualified women, the company is clearly losing valuable talent,” she writes. “Even if hiring managers are choosing equally qualified men, if they’re doing it in dramatically greater numbers (as the study above shows they do), the company is still missing an opportunity to build the kind of balanced workforce that we know produces more creative results.”

Change people’s minds.

Wittenberg-Cox says leaders need to start educating themselves and managers about the issue of gender bias instead of putting the burden on women to change themselves. “You can expect all your women to suddenly change their behavior and start overselling their skills, as the men in the study above did–but frankly, do you really want them to?” she writes. Research shows when women boast about their skills they are perceived negatively, instead of as confident and ambitious. You need to teach your staff, male and female, about the different behaviors men and women exhibit and how to effectively and accurately perceive them.

Change your hiring process.

If gender bias runs deep in the corporate world, that means HR policies are often rife with bias too. Wittenberg-Cox writes that many large companies consider “ambition” to be an important character trait for their leadership candidates. When candidates are seen as “ambitious,” they’re usually boasting, or overselling their talents–a trait studies have shown to be predominately male, she writes. Hiring managers typically believe erroneously that the most self-promotional candidates are objectively the best. “This does not make room to develop the majority of today’s talent for tomorrow’s world. Nor allow a variety of leadership styles to co-exist,” she adds.

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