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Employer Bias When Recruiting Women Leads to An Unjust Society

by Bruno Van de Casteele

June 22, 2014

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Donate An interesting study popped up in one of my "Skeptoid ideas" feeds. Dr. Stijn Baert from the University of Ghent, Belgium and of the IZA Institute in Bonn, Germany, is applying an interesting research methodology to the field of employer bias when recruiting people. He sends out pairs of identical curriculum vitae, except for one thing (the variable he wants to test). The CVs are obviously from fictitious peopleand he's simply measuring how many get called in for an interview. At that point, the recruiters are notified of the ongoing research, and a questionnaire is sent out in order to know a bit more about the recruiter.

A couple of months ago, Baert published results from a test where a young graduate was either a member of a theatre group, or active in the youth division of a union. No surprises, the former was called in more than the latter.

The following research is more interesting. The hypothesis was that women (especially women in their fertile age) get selected less than men because employers take into account that they will be absent several monthsto give birth and take care of the newborn. Research has already shown that women make less money than men, in part because they have been absent and thus "missed out" on a part of their career. That research however tests "after the fact;" Baert wanted to know if there was already a selection bias upfront.

In his research (which you can find here), he again sent outpairs of nearly identical CVs, but rather than comparinga man and a womanhe nowcompared thevitae oftwo women. Both of them were marked as married, but in one of them the partner (a female) was added to that item on the CV. (Marriages are legal for any two humans in Belgium, whatever their sexual orientation.) No other indication was given of sexual orientation and all CVs were of a "good" quality.

Baert added a second variable by sending out the CVs of women around 25 (women get their first child between 28 and 29 in Belgium) and 37 (the age where most women already have a family). There were also variations in the number of children listed. The results were interesting and merit some reflection.

First of all, there was no difference for the older women, indicating (but not proving) that the research hypothesis seems correct concerning the future absences for childbearing. There was however a significant (though not overwhelming) bias for selecting lesbian women, especially in manual work professions and male-dominant sectors. Even more interesting, it seems that women recruiters do not discriminate at all, it's the men that do.

There is now a need for a lot of follow-upresearch. Why do men select lesbian women more? Is it because of curiosity or the novelty, or as I found somewhere on the Internet, it "turns them on"? Or is there a deeper reason, namely that employers think there is less chance for them leaving the company for three-to-four months in the coming years to have a baby?

In his conclusion, Baert points out the (to me) outrageous "penalty" for motherhood that young women face. It's nice to see that a sexual minorityfor once doesn't get discriminated against, but it points to a more profound issue in our society. As Baert also suggests, instead of fighting discrimination in the workplace against sexual minorities (a good thing of course)itmight be more interesting to fight the career penalty women face in general during recruitment and over the course of their career (monetarilyand missed opportunities).

Icannot agree more. What kind ofsociety do we have when half ofits population gets discriminated against because they have babies? It's the most natural and human thing! I can understand that an individual employer needs of course to balance his books and will choose the mostefficient and less costly alternative. However, as a wholeour society loses. Half of the potential innovators and hard workers get an upfrontpenalty applied, andin most casesdo not get a second (and sometimes not even a first) chance.As a human being, I think we as a society are failing.

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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