By Enav Friedman and Dorit Efrat-Treister
Even though many organizations are striving toward equity in their hiring decisions, our recent research in Gender & Society has clearly shown we are not yet living in an era free of gender bias in STEM hiring.
We studied bias in the employment criteria, uncouncoius prejudice in favor men usually in a way considered to be unfair to women.
We asked STEM managers to tell us the most important hiring criteria. We then used that criteria in an experiment to compare how managers evaluated male versus female candidates’ CVs. We created identical resume’s except for the gender of the applicant. We also varied the STEM fields including biopharma and biorobotics. Every manager received resume’s to evaluate: a woman’s biopharma resume and a man’s biorobotics resume or vice versa. Each resume contained equivalent academic background and equivalent achievements with some interpersonal management and experience included. We asked the managers to evaluate the candidates on a variety of criteria, including the candidates’ ability to work long hours, problem-solving ability, and their evaluation of the candidates hiring probability.
We expected that managers would not explicitly prefer men but instead would show their bias towards female candidates found by emphasizing a criterion that women managers are less likely to succeed at. We guessed that the working 24/7 STEM norm combined with the perception that women cannot work as long hours as men would lead to men managers’ to favor men.
We also expected women managers to evaluate other criterion than long hours of work, because they would be more aware that women may be less likely to be willing to work long hours. This would give women a fairer chance of entering STEM.
As expected, we found that “the ability to work long hours” was a more important criterion for men STEM managers than for women managers for the hiring decisions of a female candidate. While for women managers, “the ability to solve problems” was a more important criterion than men managers when considering a female candidate.
These findings demonstrate that men managers’ gender favoritism has shifted to an implicit bias with the subtle use of hiring criteria to favor male applicants.
We wanted to find a way to fix this problem and so we completed another experiment where we added a personal note to the CVs stating that the candidate hired a full-time nanny and she/he is committed to a career. This personal note reduced the importance that men managers attributed to the “ability to work long hours” criterion in the hiring decision of a female candidate, but elevated the importance women managers assigned to this criterion. As men are the dominant decision-makers in STEM hiring, the personal note might be an effective strategy to reduce implicit gender bias.
We suggest that organizations might reduce implicit gender bias by supporting employees with extra pay to reimburse to cover child care expenses, similar to travel expenses. Such support to both mothers and fathers will convey that the women are not considered solely responsible for the children and the home. Another recommendation, more radical, is to change the organizational culture that reinforces the belief that the ability to work 24/7 is needed to be an ideal worker.
Until organizations directly address the existence of this type of implicit bias, we advise women to add a personal note to their resume in which they explain their child care arrangement and assure the employer they are fully committed to their careers. Of course, adding this personal note is not the best strategy for social change. What is far more important is reducing implicit bias by showing employers who creates gender inequality. We mention women are in the trap? In an ideal world – we would not offer suggestions for women on how to deal with the problem themselves but suggest that organizations managed by men will deal with the root of the social problem, and change the organizational culture that will help to recruit more women in the STEM fields.
Enav Friedmann is an assistant professor at the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management at Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Israel, and the head of the BGU marketing lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration from BGU and was a visiting scholar at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Italy. Her current research includes brand preferences and purchasing choices, tailoring to heterogeneous consumer strata, specifically, gender-related marketing, and social marketing.
Dorit Efrat-Treister is a Senior Lecturer at the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She received her PhD in Organizational Behavior at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, and continued as a post-doctoral fellow at the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia.