Gender and Rejection in the Job Hunt


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It is probably safe to say that nobody likes rejection, whether from a partner, on a job interview, or when submitting your work.

How, though, do people respond to rejection? When it comes to the job market, are people willing to apply for leadership roles at the same company multiple times? And, do factors like gender and perceived fairness influence job search behaviors? These were some of the questions Raina Brands and Isabel Fernandez-Mateo, both of the London Business School, examined in their research.

They collected data across three studies, with the focus on people applying for leadership roles in various industries.

The researchers found that if people applied for and got rejected for a leadership position, they were unlikely to apply for the same job if it opened again.

But, there were a number of factors also involved. Women were less likely than men to apply for the position a second or third time. These differences emerged not because the women were rejected, per se, but because they believed they were treated unfairly in the process. The result of said treatment, Brands and Fernandez-Mateo argue, is a confirmation effect, where women’s suspicions that they will experience bias in the job hunt process is reinforced.

The findings have meaningful implications. As the authors of the research note, women can only be hired for senior roles if they are in the applicant pool. But, the fairness of the search, or lack thereof, actually deters their participation.

Played out over time, the end result is what sociologists call cumulative advantage. That is, small differences at the early stage of a process are amplified over time. Indeed, these findings help explain why women only represent 16 percent of senior executives in Fortune 500 companies.