U.K. study suggests bias against male accounting candidates

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It appears that gender bias in the workplace is alive and well, however more cases of male gender bias were found in in England, while the female gender still faces an uphill climb in the states.

A study in the U.K. blames "occupational segregation" for bias against male applicants for accounting and computer analyst positions.

Economists sent two fake applications for more than 400 jobs for chartered accountants, computer analysts, engineers, and secretaries. Each applicant had equal experience, qualifications, and age profiling, but one bore the name Emma and one was Phillip. Men were up to four times as likely as women to suffer bias when seeking jobs in accountancy and computer programming, The Guardian reported.

Judy Rich, an economist at Portsmouth Business School, a co-author of the study, told the newspaper, "These findings raise questions about why men are discriminated against. What's it saying about the embeddedness of sexual stereotypes in England? It suggests that legislation, which has been around to tackle sexual discrimination for 30 years, is making no inroad."

The results may suggest that employers are using "stealth affirmative action" to recruit more women into accountancy and computer programming jobs. Rich said, "There is no legislation which requires affirmative action, but perhaps some employers are preempting it in the accountancy and computing sectors, or they could be in the progress of resegregating and becoming more female, as was the case with bank tellers."

The study also showed women were half as likely than men to be asked for an interview for engineering jobs. Men were nearly four times less likely than women to get an interview for the secretarial posts.

Jenny Watson, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission in England, said: "Discrimination does occur against men, and it's important to tackle the barriers. However, women still suffer most from inequalities. Our recent survey found it will take 40 years for women to achieve equality in the boardroom."

Two recently completed studies in the U.S. show that women are getting the short shrift in the workplace, not the other way around.

One study, conducted by Rutgers University graduate students and published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, shows that stereotypically male characteristics, such as drive and ambition, are considered positive in male job candidates, but negative in female applicants.

Male and female actors were trained to act either aggressive and ambitious, or nurturing and supportive, in fake job interviews, which were videotaped. Participants, both male and female, watched the videos and rated social skills, competence and hire-ability. The women who acted ambitious were rated poorly in likeability and social skills and were less likely to be hired.

"These results are pretty shocking to me," Anthony Younes, a Graduate School of Education student, told the Daily Targum, the Rutgers student newspaper. "I had no idea that there was such a negative response to women with stronger, more assertive personalities. You would think employers would be grateful to have such great applicants."

Similar conclusions were reached in the latest study by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that works to expand opportunities for women and business, which shows that talent management systems are vulnerable to gender bias. "When perceptions of leadership are described by masculine stereotypes, employees are viewed as less competent if they demonstrate qualities, characteristics, and skills that are considered atypical. According to the research, this results in a perpetual cycle that can overlook and under-utilize women high performers."

Another study, prompted by controversial comments by then-Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, concludes that lack of ability is not what keeps woman from pursuing math-related careers, but a variety of other reasons. Summers famously said in 2005 that innate gender differences may be the reason why fewer women succeed in math and science careers.

Three Cornell University researchers studied more than 400 academic articles and concluded in a study published last week in Psychological Bulletin that women often prefer more people-oriented professions and that mid-career work demands don't often jibe with raising children.

Also in the U.S., where the economy is triggering massive layoffs, observers predict an increase in women filing discrimination lawsuits. New York Attorney Douglas Wigdor calls the recession a "pretext for discriminating against groups of protected people." In the National Law Journal last Tuesday, he called the phenomenon "recessionary discrimination."

Wigdor represents five female finance analysts and directors in Citigroup's public finance department, who contend that a culture of gender bias and a glass ceiling led to women being unfairly targeted in layoffs in November.

According to a filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 88 percent of the managing directors, 90 percent of the directors, and 67 percent of the vice presidents in the public finance department were men before the layoff. Since the layoff, only one of the remaining 42 directors in the public finance department is female, the National Law Journal reported. Citigroup denies bias and says layoffs were based on "legitimate business reasons unrelated to gender."


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