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New research: Gender-biased hiring decisions

While many organisations are taking positive steps towards increasing gender diversity, there is a clear need to ensure that diversity initiatives are targeted and having the desired impact.

Insync Surveys partnered with Hays to explore potential gender bias at the very beginning of the employee life cycle: the way hiring decisions are made.

We designed a survey to investigate the potential for unconscious gender bias in the recruitment process.

We presented participants with a hypothetical CV for a Sales Manager position. Participants were asked to review the CV and answer a series of questions about the extent to which the candidate’s attributes and technical matched the requirements of the role. Participants were then asked to decide whether they would interview and/or hire the candidate.

The content of the CV was identical for all participants in the study, except for the name included at the top of the CV. Half of the respondents received a CV of “Simon Cook” and the other half received a CV of “Susan Campbell”. We wanted to see whether respondents would react differently to the same CV with the only difference being the gender of the candidate. This methodology has been used in numerous academic studies investigating gender bias but we wanted to apply it to a more practical context with survey participants directly involved in the hiring process.

We distributed the survey in April 2014 and received over 1,000 responses from hiring managers and found:

1. The bigger the business, the bigger the bias

Respondents from larger organisations varied more in their responses to Simon versus Susan. Hiring managers from organisations of more than 500 staff were more likely to think that Susan appropriately matched the attributes for the role but were more likely to interview Simon. So even though a female was perceived to be a better fit a male was more likely to make the interview process and ultimately, more likely to get the job.

2. We prefer candidates just like us but still hire more men

Respondents showed preferences for candidates with the same gender as them but in the end were more likely to hire Simon. That is, female respondents were more likely to think Susan had more of the right characteristics for the role and similarly, male respondents were more likely to think Simon was a better fit. Irrespective of this initial “affinity bias”, more male and female respondents elected to hire Simon.

3. More recruitment experience means more bias

Respondents who hire more than 20 people a year, i.e. those who make more recruitment decisions, actually make more gender biased decisions. Of those hiring managers who recruit most regularly, 51 per cent said it was extremely likely that they would interview ‘Susan’, but the figure rose to 65 per cent for ‘Simon’. These hiring managers were significantly more likely to see ‘Simon’ as more willing to develop and support others, as well as having the leadership skills to do the job. For hiring managers who recruited less regularly, the gap between ‘Susan’ and ‘Simon’ reduced to just 3 per cent.

4. Organisations are still not serious enough about gender diversity

Our survey showed that there are still some critical gaps in how diversity initiatives are promoted and implemented within organisations. The responses indicated a need for senior leadership to take increased accountability for diversity:

  • 56%of hiring managers said plans and resources need to be put in place or improved to help achieve gender diversity in their organisation
  • 44% said their CEO is not serious enough about achieving gender diversity in their organisation
  • 39% said their senior executives need to be better role models of diversity and inclusiveness

All of us have unconscious biases to some extent. Not knowing we have them, not acknowledging them and not seeking to challenge them is a problem.

Insync Surveys, in conjunction with our specialist division Gender Worx, has created one of Australia’s leading consultancies in gender diversity measurement and change. If you want to measure unconscious bias in your recruitment team or have a discussion about how your organisation could become more diverse and inclusive please contact us.

For our latest gender bias research insights, read our Hays/Insync report: Gender diversity: Why aren’t we getting it right?

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