Gender Discrimination at Work

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On a recent flight, I was able to watch the film, On the Basis of Sex, which offers an overview of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight for equal rights. 

The key court case depicted in the film, Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, was decided in 1972. Over 45 years ago. 

That got me thinking about the pervasiveness of gender discrimination today and if things have changed since the Moritz case. 

A recent study from Amanda Koch and her colleagues offers an answer. They conducted what’s called a meta-analysis, where they aggregated the results from previous studies on the topic. 

They focused on employment decisions people made during experiments. A common approach in such studies is for the participants to review resumés that are largely the same except for the gender of the applicant. Any differences they make in employment decisions can be attributed to gender bias.

The researchers found that, overall, study participants preferred men over women. But, that just told part of the story. 

Gender differences emerged when considering applicants for male-dominated professions, but not in other contexts. These differences were especially pronounced when men were doing the rating. 

The bias reduced when one applicant was clearly qualified for the position. Further, bias was reduced when people were motivated to make careful decisions.

Finally, these gender biases have remained pretty steady over time, from studies conducted in the 70’s to those in the 2000’s.

These findings suggest that enhancing reviewer motivation to make careful decisions is the key. Koch and colleagues suggest organizations can help facilitate as much. They can offer training and require decision makers to justify their answers, have a vested interest in the decision, and make public the choices they made.