University Study Finds Gender Bias Is Prevalent in the Early Recruitment Phase for Leadership Positions

Dr. Netchaeva

A new study by researchers at the University of Melbourne, Northwestern Univerity, and Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, finds that gender bias creeps into the hiring process for private-sector leadership positions during the early recruiting stage of the process.

The researchers carried out five experimental studies to detect possible gender bias in communication during the pre-recruitment phase. Participants were told they had to recruit a male and female leader for an imaginary company, and were given eight pieces of information about the company. They were randomly split into two groups, and one had to communicate with the female candidate (Sarah) and the other with the male candidate (David). Conservative participants in the group that thought they were communicating with David picked more positive pieces of information about the position and the company, and those communicating with Sarah picked less positive information.

The authors concluded that conservative participants were less positive in describing the position to the female candidate, and more positive when they thought they were talking with David – probably because conservatives tend to favor the status quo (male leadership, in this case). Liberals, instead, did not exhibit this trend.

“Given the statistics that 80 percent of jobs are communicated to people informally, and coupled with our finding that these communications may be riddled with gender bias, it is important for companies to rethink about how they communicate with candidates at that stage,” said Ekaterina Netchaeva, an assistant professor at Bocconi University and coauthor of the study.

Dr. Netchaeva joined the faculty at Bocconi University in 2014. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in microbiology and immunology from the University of British Columbia. She earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the University of Utah.

The full study, “It’s a Man’s World! The Role of Political Ideology in the Early Stages of Leader Recruitment,” was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. It may be accessed here.

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