Two personal disclaimers before I start:
- In this blog I note gender differences in the workplace. It is not my aim to blame any party or group for these differences, as that would be neither productive nor is the truth ever that simple. Instead I believe systems are shaped by the people in it. As the workforce in the modern enterprise was for a large period of time dominantly (and some periods exclusively) male, the working conditions have naturally evolved to cater to masculine traits. Many societal processes are ongoing to help these systems adapt to the female influx. These steps taken to further equality will fall outside of the scope of my post.
- The problems I intend to describe are complex and nuanced in a way that can never be captured in one blogpost. My aim is to showcase step-by-step how cumulative differences in rewards and participation between genders come into existence. I will use academic research to stave my points, but I shall not review these studies extensively. Instead I shall include links to those articles and invite you to make your own judgement. I have only included publicly accessible academic works.
To look at differences in careers between genders is a complex endeavor. It is complicated to exactly pinpoint where differences stem from and almost impossible to establish causality. The larger differences only become apparent over a whole career, and they seem to be mostly due to an accumulation of smaller effects. In this post we shall walk through the many steps of a career and see which effects occur that create differences between genders.
In modern society most careers actually start with education. It is in this step that women tend to outperform men. The source of these differences are cause for speculation. Most frequently the differences are attributed to non-cognitive skills. Non-cognitive skills are skills that are important for studying, yet are not directly related to the content of study. An example of a non-cognitive skills is the ability to delay gratification, and voluntarily study instead of play. Research found that boys spend on average less time on homework, self-report less joy derived from school and are more likely to have behavioral problems. Read more about it here.
An economic explanation for female investment on their own education (in time, money and other resources) is a greater return on investment. Women benefit more from higher education than men do. This is not to say that women earn more than men do with the same degree. Rather the difference between earnings with a higher and a lower degree is larger for women than that same difference is for men. It is important to note that while the decision for college participation is made at an age where one could conceivably take such outcomes into account, large parts of the education take place when the child is not quite capable to take such information to account. This economic explanation can therefore only be utilized for the higher levels of education. Read the article here.
It is surprising that while females perform so well during their studies, they start losing ground the minute they enter the workforce. The very first differences occur long before the first working day.
To Apply Or Not To Apply; that is the question.
Before an employer judges whether a candidate is suitable for a specific position, the candidate decides for which jobs to apply. A litany of studies show that this decision is influenced by the language used in the advertisement. Men, for example, evaluate extrinsic attributes higher than women, while women favor intrinsic attributes more than men. This means that women are more likely to respond positively to job advertisement that promote personal development and teamwork then to one that promotes a high salary. In all likelihood all candidates would like both types of attributes in a job, but the story measured which of these had a higher effect for which gender. See this study for more details.
When I was in my Master, I was terrified that I would not find a job in my field. We were just coming out of a recession and I had the ambition to work in an industry that my bachelor had not been focused on. So I dropped my CV all over the place. A recruiter contacted me halfway through the year, asking if I wanted an internship. I had already done my internship, so I did not. Boldly I answered that I would be interested in a job however. To my surprise I received a job description and an invitation to apply.
The kicker was: looking at that job description I was not qualified for this job at all! I had already decided not to apply when my father told me that I could at least ask the recruiter why he had sent me this advertisement in the first place. The recruiter told me that I was the best candidate he had seen for this job. It turned out that I read the advertisement very differently than he did. I believed that I had to check all the requirements, while the recruiter simply shot for roughly meeting half of them.
Without encouragement from the recruiter and my father I would never have applied for a job that I did wind up landing.
Research found that this is part of a larger pattern. This study found that women are 5,8% less likely to apply for a job as full professor, and 4,3% less likely to apply for a job as associate professor. It is important to note that this statistical analysis controlled for productivity, to ensure that apples were compared to apples. The differences were larger (6,6%) in fields that had less objective evaluation metrics. Furthermore, when there are perceived lower chances of success for females, women are also less likely to apply.
Chances of getting hired
In an experiment by Yale, 127 applications were send out for the position of laboratory manager position. They had randomly assigned 64 of the applications female names (Jennifer), and the other half male names (John), but the application materials were the same. The male applicants were considered more competent, hire-able and were offered more mentoring. As demonstrated in the graph below, and described in the article which can be found here.
One of those application materials might be letters of recommendation. There are subtle differences in the way recommendation letters are written for the genders. Men are more likely to receive letters with standout words (e.g. “He is excellent!” Rather than “He does this well”) than females. Read the study here.
While I in general frown upon vanity, taking extra care of your appearance is vitally important for the female applicant who is invited on the job interview. Women with appropriate clothing were rated as more competent in this experiment, more creative and more independent. Unfortunately this paper did not investigate whether the same is true for men.
What you wear and how you behave is of course industry dependent. This experiment found that women who played up masculine traits when applying for a job in a male dominated industry are more likely to be successful.
Tallying up the tab:
Women started off at a relative advantage in education. Then the application process started… First came self-selection. Women were less likely to apply to jobs they were sufficiently qualified for, and preferred jobs that emphasized intrinsic attributes rather than extrinsic attributes. Effectively they applied for less jobs and were less likely to select a job based on the associated economic benefits.
When they did apply they were evaluated as less competent and hire-able, regardless of same credentials. They also were offered less mentoring, which is invaluable for fast career progression and had a lower initial salary offer. In fact this meta-analysis of wage gap demonstrates that a significant portion of the wage gap is indeed induced in this first job.
The total cost? Women are statistically speaking likely to have found a lower level starting job, with a lower salary and less opportunities for personal growth, because they miss resources such as mentoring. This has all happened before they even worked a day in their life.
Next up: Fitting-in in an old boys network, getting promotions, the ambition gap and more.