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Research: Gender stereotypes adversely affect women job seekers at group recruiting events

Group recruiting event
New research led by DePaul's Kirsten Fanning finds that women may be at a disadvantage in group recruiting interviews due to gender stereotypes around assertiveness that may bias a recruiter's employee selection. (iStock/fizkes)

Group recruiting events are common rites of passage for job seekers in a variety of sectors. New research, however, suggests that women may be at a disadvantage in these group interview settings. Gender stereotypes about assertiveness can bias a recruiter’s employee selection, according to new research that appeared in Contemporary Accounting Research and written by a research team led by Kirsten Fanning, an assistant professor in the Driehaus College of Business.

“Women job candidates who exhibit stereotypically male behaviors receive lower evaluations during group recruiting events than male job candidates who exhibit stereotypically male behaviors, particularly among male recruiters,” Fanning says.

Kirsten Fanning
Kirsten Fanning is an assistant professor in the Driehaus College of Business. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Fanning)

The research team, including Fanning, and co-authors Jeffrey Williams of Utah Valley University and Michael G. Williamson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, used a multiple-study approach that involved live simulated group recruiting events and multiple experiments.

In this Q&A, Fanning discusses the importance of choosing the right interview style for gender equity and how this research could help boost the number of women in leadership positions in corporate America.

What are some of the most important findings in your research?

Judgment bias places women job candidates in a difficult position. Assertively self-promoting one’s skills, abilities and knowledge enhances perceptions of one’s competence and often increases judgments that the job candidate would be a good fit for the position. In fact, prior research highlights that women job candidates exhibiting these stereotypically male behaviors during one-on-one interviews do increase their hiring prospects. However, we find that women job candidates exhibiting these behaviors during group recruiting events are perceived as less likable and receive lower hiring evaluations. From this perspective, only male job candidates benefit from exhibiting these behaviors.

Our results suggest that evaluating job candidates in the more social context of group events, relative to one-on-one interviews, can have important unintended consequences on employee selection by gender. These results should be important in informing hiring decisions across organizations such as investment banks and public accounting firms that use group recruiting events as part of the recruiting process.

Why is this research important for recruiters to know before deciding on the type of interview conducted?

There are at least two reasons. First, group-based recruiting events are quite prevalent among certain types of organizations, particularly when recruiting on college campuses. Impressions from these events are often important inputs to hiring decisions, as they determine who receives further considerations during the job recruiting process.

Second, during group recruiting events, job candidates typically mingle with representatives in a social venue, such as a college campus or a restaurant. At these events, assertive job candidates likely approach influential recruiters and inject themselves into existing conversations for the opportunity to promote themselves. Social norms are likely more focal in the social context of group recruiting events, and violations of traditional gender norms more noticeable.

How might companies use this information to increase the amount of women in corporate leadership?

Our results are particularly important for companies to understand since stereotypically male behaviors can predict career success within organizations such as large public accounting firms and investment banks. To the extent that these firms value these behaviors, and on-campus group recruiting activities benefit men relative to women, this common recruiting practice can help explain why women are proportionately represented in the staff ranks but underrepresented in the senior ranks, despite heavy firm investments to reverse this trend.

Our research suggests that this bias in hiring judgments during group recruiting events is more prevalent in men, relative to women, recruiters. Since men have historically held positions of status over women, men may be socially prone to perceiving behavior that violates gender norms as a threat to the existing status structure, leading men to be more susceptible to this judgment bias. Given this, increasing awareness among key decision-makers of the bias we document is likely to be beneficial to companies in leveraging expertise from human resource specialists or hosting women-only recruiting and group networking events.

The paper is available to read at SSRN and Wiley Online Library.