Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman in the workplace. While we may believe that we live in a meritocracy, studies have found that Gender Bias is a very real phenomenon. Yet there is a surprising factor that can undermine gender bias, at least for certain men.
The Strange Case Of John And Jennifer
If there is any field where you might assume that there would be little bias, it is in science. If you are looking for the best candidate in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field then surely the brain is the only organ that makes a difference. Right?
Not according to a simple and elegant study by Corinne Moss-Racusin and colleagues of Yale University.
The researchers created a fictional student and drafted up an impressive Curriculum Vitae/Resumé. They then sent one of two versions of this CV to 100 STEM professors at some of the USA’s top Universities. There was only one difference in the CVs, the applicant’s first name was either John or Jennifer.
Each professor was asked to judge how likely they would be to hire the fictional student, how competent the student seemed, what the student should be paid and how willing they would be to mentor the student.
The results were stark. The student named John was deemed to be more competent, more employable, deserved higher wages and was more likely to be mentored. In every category, despite identical CVs, John was judged to be a better scientist than Jennifer.
Interestingly, the results holds true irrespective of the professor’s gender. Female professors were also more likely to hire and mentor John. And pay him more money.
Gender Bias And Venture Capital
It’s fair to say that Venture Capital Finance is a male dominated sector. Venture Capital provide funding for startup companies. And, while the percentage of female graduates with MBA degrees has increased, the number of female Venture Capitalists has stayed stagnant for 25 years. Around 75% of Venture Capital firms have never had a senior female investor.
A study by the Harvard Business School found that some firms do hire more women and the reason is startling. Firms that have a greater gender diversity are more likely to have male senior partners with female children. In fact the more daughters the partners had, the more diverse their firms were!
On average, firms where the senior partners had more daughters than sons had a female employment rate of 11.87%. Firms with an equal number of daughters and sons had 9.78% and where sons outnumbered daughters the rate fell to 8.86%.
Of course this is all very nice and politically correct, but Venture Capital Finance is a results oriented business. So the researchers also looked at what impact the “daughter effect” had on the bottom line.
Every daughter more than son equated to a 2.9% improvement in deal success. In other words, the more diverse firms were more successful. In fact, the researchers estimate that increasing a firm’s diversity from 8% to 18% could result in an extra €23 billion being raised.
Biases exist in society and we are all subject to them. Female professors rate males as more competent despite their own personal experience. Male Venture Capitalists begin to think that females can do the job when they themselves have daughters. Maybe the fathers realise how competent their daughters are or maybe they become aware of the biases that their daughters face.
But the important thing is that we can change our unconscious gender biases. And that diversity can be better for business.
So, if you’re an employer, maybe you should take a second look at the next female applicant. Make sure that you’re not unconsciously judging her by a different standard. According to the Harvard Business School, your business might have a lot to gain.