Organizational Behaviour

Hiring and Bias

When we picture someone who is caring, compassionate and generous, who do we picture?  That’s right, we picture a woman.

A recent research study suggests that when identifying information in job applications was removed, and accomplishments such as publications and teaching evaluations were controlled for, hiring committees preferred driven, action taking behaviours described in letters of reference, rather than nurturing supportive behaviours.  And they typically ranked people with “supportive” behaviours lower than those with more action driven behaviours such as assertive or confident. (By the way, male candidates who had letters of reference that used more supportive or emotive language were also penalized by hiring committees, but they were much smaller in number than the women described this way). As well, both women and men ranked candidates with action taking descriptions higher than those with more supportive descriptions.

Recently, I shared research from the Pew Foundation that shows that in politics while women are consistently rated higher on individual leadership traits, that they are also consistently rated lower in overall leadership ability.

I wonder if these findings might be transferable to more than the educational context? So how do we eliminate this bias in hiring?  We know that supportive behaviours such as collaboration, team-work, and communication are highly valued by employers.  But, when hiring it appears that while we say we need these behaviours, we hire for the action taker not the collaborator.

Developing a strong criteria for hiring, based on specific accomplishments and reported behaviours might be a beginning.  Thus if an organization says it values collaboration, hiring managers or committees could then specifically evaluate each candidate on that behaviour.  And if the criteria are weighted properly, the bias to action orientation could be reduced.

In the meantime, those of you, both male and female, who are collaborative supportive types, should consider asking their reference writers to focus on action-oriented skills.  Sometimes, you’ve just got to fight fire with fire.


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