sexism in the hiring process: is ‘mr’ really all it takes?
So you’re tired of your job, you’re well qualified and have bags of experience. You should be able to chuck it in and get a new one pretty quickly based on your impressive CV, right? Well, one Australian man had a completely different experience, with his CV leading to workplace discrimination rather than a fantastic new job. On his blog Kim O’Grady details his experiences with gender discrimination in the workplace, although it may not be in the way you imagine.
When Kim, with requisite qualifications and experience, was job hunting he had a four-month period where he did not get one interview and very few responses to his applications. After several knock-backs and with his confidence ebbing he decided to review his resume, thinking this was the common denominator in all his rejected applications. The thing that stood out most to him was the fact that while his name was gender neutral, prospective employers could presume he was a woman. This was compounded by the fact that his name was closely followed by the detail that he was married with children. His solution? He added the prefix Mr to his name on his resume. He got his first interview the very next day. That’s right the Very. Next. Day! Within two weeks, Kim O’Grady secured a position with a lot more responsibility and a considerably bigger pay packet.
Although Kim’s blog post has been doing the rounds on the internet recently the event he was discussing actually happened in the late 1990’s. After reading about Kim’s experience I began to wonder whether gender discrimination in the workplace is still as much of an issue in 2013. Especially during an era when Australians have experienced their first female Governor-General, their first female Prime Minister and women are in high profile corporate leadership positions. To be honest my initial answer to this was ‘no, it’s no longer such an issue’.
Disappointingly I was wrong!
In my workplace I am surrounded by strong, high achieving women who are cracking their way through the glass ceiling. These women are not held out as tokens to meet an imaginary quota or show how things should be done, it is normal. They are in genuine leadership positions. It may be, though, that my interactions with these types of women and my own personal circumstances have skewed my perception and that is the crux of it.
I genuinely believe perception is the key to understanding this issue.
For example a 2012 study by a team of German researchers from the University of Tübingen, found that perceptions around women in the workplace are very deeply ingrained. During the study HR professionals were shown pictures of prospective candidates and were tasked with matching them against a set of list of work-related prestige and achievements. The female candidates were consistently underestimated and if they were overweight and/or had an ethnic name there was an even bigger impact. In fact 42% of participants undervalued or completely disqualified obese females but only 19% had the same response to the obese males. While many people will, and no doubt have, argued that the methodology use in this study was flawed it does show that perceptions play a big role in recruitment specifically and the workplace generally. I understand that recruiters don’t request a photo of a candidate be submitted with a job application but if people subconsciously de-value a female candidate by virtue of the fact that she is female then that would go a long way to explaining why the addition of the word MR to Kim’s resume was so important.
This is a problem that is recognised on an international scale. In September 2012 the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission introduced a Strategic Enforcement Plan with the express purpose of ‘eliminating systemic barriers in recruitment and hiring.’ The Commission recognises that many groups of prospective employees, particularly those that identify as ethnic minorities, older workers, women and people with disabilities face discrimination at the recruiting and hiring stages. The Commission also notes that there is a tendency for these people to be channelled or steered into a particular job role due to their perceived status within a particular group. Again, perception is playing a significant role here.
In a follow up post Kim O’Grady outlined the responses he had received from the initial article. There were expressions of sadness, disappointment and anger but not one person voiced their disbelief. That to me is the most upsetting thing of all. Whilst Kim O’Grady felt the effects of gender discrimination in the workplace in the late 1990’s, the fact that the majority of people are still unsurprised that this remains an issue almost 15 years later is a testament to just how deeply ingrained this behaviour is.
Dwoskin, L, Squire, M, & Patullo, J 2013, ‘Welcome Aboard! How to Hire the Right Way’, Employee Relations Law Journal, 38, 4, pp. 28-63, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 July 2013.