Our Monday Gender Issue:
Teaching at a girls’ school, I continually run into the problem of modesty. My women know the answers and yet go to the board saying they might not be right.
Now, an academic study from researchers at Columbia, Northwestern’s Kellogg School and the Booth School at Chicago have quantified the impact of women’s tendency to understate their potential while men overstate what they can do.
Limited to the lab, the experiment’s design guaranteed no gender performance differences. “Employers” knew what they were looking for as did the “job candidates.” To mimic the real world and create incentive, the “employers” were paid for selecting the best candidates as were the “employees” who got the most jobs.
There were several scenarios. One conveyed no information; people just knew gender. In the second scenario that the researchers called “Cheap Talk,” job candidates were supposed to self-report their results. Then, in the third twist, actual test data was presented to employers.
In each instance the results reflected the “employer’s” confirmation bias. If he or she (male and female!!) thought the male would be more able, then that person hired the male, thereby validating the preconception. Consequently, in the first 2 “rounds” of hiring, whether based on no information or self-reporting in which the men inaccurately inflated their ability, the women were half as likely to get the job. Perhaps even more unsettling, even when presented with hard data, still more men were selected.
In most hiring decisions, “employers” prior beliefs were disproportionately weighted.
Battling confirmation bias becomes even more daunting when industry norms reinforce the bias. Described in yesterday’s NY Times article on tech gender bias, male attitudes demean women. As a result, they have little incentive to change their behavior. It was encouraging, though, to read about how women in technology have confronted the problem and are fighting the battle by starting their own firms and challenging inappropriate tweets, apps and less obvious but equally egregious behaviors.
As a behavioral economist might say, the confirmation bias that social norms have supported is gradually changing.
Sources and Resources: Especially having just read the NY Times Business Section lead article, “Technology’s Man Problem,” I recommend and especially enjoyed, “How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science.”