3 Things You Need to Know About Gender Bias and Tech Recruiting

ThinkstockPhotos-169280043When we look at the lack of women in tech careers, we tend to point the blame at education and workplace culture. Girls aren’t educated about the many diverse opportunities in the field and aren’t encouraged to study them. Tech teams made up of mostly men aren’t welcoming to women and make them feel uncomfortable.

While these factors may contribute to the problem, there’s another contributor we need to recognize: gender bias.

No one wants to talk about bias because it implies intentional discrimination, but a lot of bias is unconscious and unintentional. We don’t mean to be biased, and we don’t realize it either. But gender bias is real, and it happens in tech recruiting. The only way to start eliminating gender bias from tech is to acknowledge it.

Here are a few unintentional ways gender bias can creep into tech hiring:

The resume

A man and a woman walk into a room. Without knowing anything about them, you have to pick one to hire for a tech job. Who do you choose?

Many recruiters would hire the man. This decision may be unconscious and unintentional, but research shows employers still prefer to hire men in STEM fields.

A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) in March 2014 found that when employers only had appearance to go by, both male and female recruiters were twice as likely to hire a man over a woman for a mathematical task.

You’re looking at the same man and woman and you still don’t know anything about their work experience, skills or education. Who do you think would get higher score on a math evaluation?

Again, most recruiters would put their money on the man. In the study, recruiters expected male applicants to perform better, even without knowing anything else about them.

How does this study work in the real world? When a woman’s resume is reviewed for a job in tech, she’s already at a disadvantage. She could have the same qualifications as a male candidate, but recruiters, whether they realize it or not already expect the man to perform better in the position.

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The application materials

You’re reading the cover letter and answers to any questions you posed in the application. If the candidate described himself as warm and supportive, would you think he was less qualified for the job? What if the candidate was a woman and described herself in this way?

You probably wouldn’t hire the woman. A study published in June in Psychology of Women Quarterly found that women who described themselves with feminine words were viewed as less qualified for jobs in male-dominated fields like tech and science. However, women who described themselves in masculine terms like assertive, independent, and achievement-orientated were seen as more fitting for these jobs.

Men’s use of masculine and feminine words to describe themselves had no effect on their perceived ability to excel in these fields.

Tech recruiters unintentionally want to hire female professionals who are like men. Women who use feminine terms in their application materials may be seen as weak and eliminated from consideration.

The interview

You’re conducting a job interview with a candidate, and you ask why you should hire them. What makes them qualified for the position? What skills do they have that make them better than other candidates?

Whose answer do you expect to be more persuasive — a man’s or a woman’s? What if they both said the same thing? Who would you like better?

According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business School, Wharton, and MIT Sloan, published in March, you would probably think a male candidate made a more convincing argument.

In the study, men and women recited identical business pitches to investors, and 68 percent preferred the pitches given by men. The investors rated pitches given by men as more persuasive, logical, and fact-based than the same pitches delivered by women.

But in real life, men and women don’t speak the same way, and they won’t say the same things in a job interview. The PNAS study found that men tended to overestimate their abilities when asked to predict their performance on a math evaluation, while women tended to underestimate theirs.

Men, who are already viewed as more persuasive, may over-exaggerate their skills in a job interview. Meanwhile, women, who may already be viewed as less skilled and less persuasive, may downplay their skills in an interview, weakening their chances of getting the job.

Gender bias is complex and often unintentional. But it can play a huge role in the recruiting process, especially in tech. Although efforts to eliminate bias from the workplace are founded, paying more attention to the ways bias impacts the hiring process can help to get more women in tech.

Have you encountered gender bias in the tech recruiting? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tim Cannon

Tim Cannon
Tim Cannon is the VP of product management and marketing at HealthITJobs.com. Connect with him and HealthITJobs.com on LinkedIn.

Tim Cannon

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One Response to “3 Things You Need to Know About Gender Bias and Tech Recruiting”

  1. […] by transforming the tech industry from a male-dominated field to a more gender-balanced field, women could help end stereotypes that they are “less-qualified” to work in tech. One Digital Trends article reported studies […]

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