In Search of a Less Sexist Hiring Process

The hard truth is that the gender balance at the top of the business world won’t change until the gentlemen currently in power want it to — and learn how to do it. The challenge is that both men and women seem to buy into the mistaken notion that business today is built on meritocracy.  A recent study by three business school professors illustrates why this is so rarely true.

Several managers were asked to recruit people to run some mathematical tasks. The talent offered to them was an equal mix of men and women, with equivalent skills. The researchers found four things that exactly echo what I have seen in countless companies:

• Male and female managers were twice as likely to recruit men, based on paper applications.

• When interviewed, the male candidates inflated their abilities while the women downplayed theirs. But recruiting managers failed to compensate for that difference, and were still twice as likely to choose the man.

• Even when provided with data that the women were just as capable, the managers still preferred men (who were 1.5 times as likely to be hired).

• When managers knowingly chose a candidate who had performed worse on the test, they were two-thirds more likely to choose a male candidate.

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. 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.

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