Gorman releases new study of gender bias in hiring
By Charlotte Crystal
You’re in charge of filling a job for your company, and you know the position requires someone assertive and decisive — a real go-getter with strong leadership skills.
When you find the perfect candidate, is it more likely to be a man or a woman? Now switch gears and imagine that the job to be filled requires someone who can get along well with others, someone who is always friendly and cooperative. Will the most suitable applicant be a man or a woman?
If you answered “a man” to the first question, and “a woman” to the second, you are not alone. In fact, you share the stereotypes of men and women held by a majority of hiring officials at large law firms around the country.
Elizabeth Gorman, assistant professor of sociology at U.Va., has analyzed the mid-1990 hiring decisions of 700 law firms nationwide. She found that stereotypes of men as decisive and aggressive and of women as indecisive and gentle are alive and well and influencing personnel decisions at large, private law firms.
“Women have gained a foothold in the legal profession over the past quarter century,” Gorman said. “But even among law firms, which should be more than usually attuned to discrimination in employment, the power of stereotypes shapes hiring to a statistically significant degree.”
Gorman’s research findings are important because they are believed to represent the first time that this conclusion — that employers discriminate according to gender stereotypes — has been substantiated by real-world data, rather than by laboratory experiments. In recent years, expert testimony in courts along these lines has been discounted because it relied on controlled laboratory experiments rather than actual evidence from the workplace.
Gorman’s findings also support the value of having women involved in hiring. Based on actual workplace data, her results demonstrate, again for what is believed to be the first time, that when women are in charge of hiring, organizations hire more women.
Gorman’s study results appear in an article titled “Gender Stereotypes, Same-Gender Preferences, and Organizational Variation in the Hiring of Women: Evidence from Law Firms,” which was published in the August issue of the peer-reviewed journal American Sociological Review.
Other findings include:
- A majority of the law firms studied (55 percent) have a lower proportion of women among their entry level hires than the proportion of women enrolled in law schools studied, suggesting a hiring disadvantage for women at these law firms;
- In 1994-1995, on average, only 39 percent of associates and 13 percent of partners were women;
- The presence of a female hiring partner increases the odds that a woman will be hired by 13 percent.
Specific recommendations for human resource officials are beyond the scope of this research. But Gorman’s results underline the importance of ensuring awareness among hiring officials that gender stereotypes can influence their hiring decisions. Along these lines, training and sensitization to the issues are important to battling discrimination. So is the establishment of institutional safeguards, such as restricting the discretion of decision makers and requiring written records of all hiring decisions.
For law firms, courts and employment-discrimination plaintiffs’ lawyers, this study suggests the legal understanding of “discrimination” should be broadened beyond a deliberate decision not to hire a woman, to encompass the subtle impact of stereotypes on decision making.
Discrimination in hiring is a violation of the federal laws outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII protects individuals from employment discrimination based on gender, race, color, national origin or religion and applies to public and private organizations with 15 or more employees.