Breaking the Cycle of Bias That Works Against Women Leaders

Source: Maryam Kouchaki, Burak Oc, and Ekaterina Netchaeva, MIT Sloan Management Review, March 31, 2021
(subscription required)

Women are presented job opportunities differently than men — depending on the hiring manager’s political ideology.

It turns out that gender bias in hiring and advancement is more pervasive than we thought.

While progress has certainly been made toward workplace gender parity — some companies, for example, are writing more gender-balanced performance reviews — the reality is that women are still underrepresented in private-sector leadership positions. There are likely multiple drivers of this. Outright discrimination — denying women jobs on the basis of their gender rather than their skill sets — is certainly one. But another, harder-to-detect factor can contribute to the leadership gap: the tendency of some organizational decision makers to subtly dissuade women from pursuing leadership roles….

It’s a man’s world! The role of political ideology in the early stages of leader recruitment
Source: Burak Oc, Ekaterina Netchaeva, Maryam Kouchaki, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 162, January 2021
(subscription required)

• Conservatives describe a leadership position less positively to a female candidate.
• Liberals do not demonstrate such gender bias.
• Conservatives experience greater anxiety when communicating with female candidates.
• Anxious decision makers describe the position less positively to candidates.

Previous research has demonstrated the impact of political ideology on a wide variety of psychological and behavioral processes. Contributing to this research, we examine the effect of organizational decision makers’ political ideology and job candidates’ gender on how the decision makers communicate information about leadership positions to the candidate. In five studies, we demonstrate that decision makers who are more conservative exhibit gender bias by providing a female (versus male) candidate with a less positive description of a leadership position, an effect driven by the decision makers’ felt anxiety. We further show that making information on women’s success in leadership positions salient diminishes the effect of political ideology insofar as both more and less conservative decision makers will exhibit similar levels of positivity when communicating with a prospective female candidate. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.