Employers are more likely to succumb to gender bias when hiring if a candidate is not being compared to other candidates, according to a study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government picked up by The Wall Street Journal. The study involved 100 fake job candidates, who took either math or verbal tests. The test scores were presented to 554 mock employers, who were asked to determine if candidates should go on to a second round of testing. When presented information about a single candidate, the employers were more likely to choose men for math tests and women for verbal tests, even if they scored poorly. But when they were given information about a male and a female candidate, the test scores trumped the stereotype that men are better at math and women are better at verbal skills in their decision-making.
Allow co-author Iris Bohnet to explain this phenomenon in terms our female brains will understand — shoe shopping:
“If you see one pair of shoes in a store, it’s very hard for you to know how this pair compares in terms of quality or price or color. You base your judgment on whatever comes to mind,” says study co-author Iris Bohnet, a dean and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, who also directs the school’s Women and Public Policy Program. “But when you have different shoes available, all of a sudden you can calibrate the color and quality better,” she says.
The takeaway is, even if you’re the only one up for a job, you’ll still have to compete against all of the stereotypes about your gender.