Research shows that, in general, men have an advantage over women in the labor market: men tend to have higher wages and reach authority positions to a greater extent compared to women. It has been suggested that discriminatory behavior by employers may be one possible reason for the observed gender disparities in career-related outcomes.
While there is a lot of research on gender discrimination in recruitment, conclusive evidence is still lacking. Moreover, little is known about possible gender discrimination by the employer’s gender. Do male employers favor men over women in recruitment? Do female employers prefer recruiting women rather than men?
To answer these questions, a recent study investigates whether the treatment of male and female job applicants differ by the gender of the recruiter. Fictitious job applications in response to real job openings in the Swedish labor market were sent and the employer callbacks, i.e., employers’ responses to the job applications, were observed. Thus, the first stage of the recruitment process (in which the selection of applicants to be contacted for interviews takes place) was studied.
While the gender of the job applicant (indicated by a distinct male or female name) varied in the applications, all applicants were 31 years old and had identical merit within occupations. The study includes 1,643 jobs for which the gender of the employer, that is, the gender of the contact person or the recruiter, could be recorded. Jobs were applied for in 18 occupations that represent many of the largest occupations in Sweden, and that are characterized by variation in educational level, sector as well as gender and immigrant composition.
So, do male employers contact male job applicants to a greater extent than female applicants? According to the results, the answer is yes – sometimes. Overall, based on the callbacks received, male recruiters are found to contact male applicants more often than female applicants. This is especially the case in gender-balanced occupations (high school teacher, chef and auditor), that is, occupations in which the share of women is 40% to 60%.
However, no statistically significant gender biases in callbacks by male or female employers are found in male- and female-dominated occupations, although the callbacks by male employers are higher for male than female applicants in all categories based on the occupational gender composition.
Thus, do female employers more often contact female applicants than male applicants? Although female employers in general are found to contact female job applicants slightly more often than male applicants, this result does not reach statistical significance. Therefore, the study finds no evidence of gender discrimination by female recruiters.
Why would men favor men over women in recruitment? It could be that some men simply like recruiting and working with other men rather than women. Alternatively, it could be that they in general presume female workers to be less productive and more costly, possibly due to expected differences in work-related characteristics and working hours following parenthood.
Employers may fear that, for women, becoming or being a parent leads not only to a time off from work but also to other negative things, such as decreased working hours and job commitment, while this may not be the case for men.
Thus, the 31-year-old female applicants here may be facing a ‘motherhood penalty’ by male employers regardless of whether they have children or not. This is because they are likely to either have young children or be perceived as being “at risk” of having children.
However, previous research from Sweden using the same data as the current study finds no discrimination in recruitment based on gender, parenthood or any combination of these, such as motherhood. Sweden, together with its Nordic neighbors, is often seen as a forerunner as regards gender equality in an international comparison, with highly gender-egalitarian attitudes, extended paid parental leaves, heavily subsidized childcare, and relatively small gender gaps in labor market outcomes such as employment rates.
Therefore, it might not be surprising that no overall evidence of gender discrimination in recruitment is found. On the contrary, it may be more unexpected to find discrimination by male employers against female applicants.
Yet, gender differences in work-related outcomes exist in Sweden. Thus, it is important to note that discrimination may take place at different stages in the employment process; not only in the recruitment and hiring process, but also for instance in wage setting and promotion.
Finally, the result of a pro-male bias in callbacks by male recruiters is intriguing. It can be interpreted as evidence of discrimination by men against women in the Swedish labor market, at least in gender-balanced occupations. At the same time, this finding calls for further research on the topic.
While the study discussed here includes many occupations, it cannot say anything about discrimination at the occupational level due to a limited number of observations in specific occupations. Discrimination patterns may look different when studying specific occupations or other occupational categories.
Also, besides detecting discrimination, it is interesting and important to investigate why discrimination takes place. To conclude, in order to reach a broader understanding of the issue, future research should include different contexts and more occupations, together with innovative study designs.
Anni Erlandsson, “Do Men Favor Men in Recruitment? A Field Experiment in the Swedish Labor Market,” Work and Occupations 2019.
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