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Some Examples of the Hiring Process

A just-released paper by the Behavioral Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) looks at hiring processes in the Australian Public Service Commission. Here’s the summary:

This study assessed whether women and minorities are discriminated against in the early stages of the recruitment process for senior positions in the APS, while also testing the impact of implementing a ‘blind’ or de-identified approach to reviewing candidates.

Over 2,100 public servants from 14 agencies participated in the trial. They completed an exercise in which they shortlisted applicants for a hypothetical senior role in their agency. Participants were randomly assigned to receive application materials for candidates in standard form or in de-identified form (with information about candidate gender, race and ethnicity removed).

We found that the public servants engaged in positive (not negative) discrimination towards female and minority candidates:

– Participants were 2.9% more likely to shortlist female candidates and 3.2% less likely to shortlist male applicants when they were identifiable, compared with when they were de-identified.
– Minority males were 5.8% more likely to be shortlisted and minority females were 8.6% more likely to be shortlisted when identifiable compared to when applications were de-identified.
– The positive discrimination was strongest for Indigenous female candidates who were 22.2% more likely to be shortlisted when identifiable compared to when the applications were de-identified.

Interestingly, male reviewers displayed markedly more positive discrimination in favour of minority candidates than did female counterparts, and reviewers aged 40+ displayed much stronger affirmative action in favour for both women and minorities than did younger ones.

Overall, the results indicate the need for caution when moving towards ’blind’ recruitment processes in the Australian Public Service, as de-identification may frustrate efforts aimed at promoting diversity.

Ignoring the authors’ failure to write in proper American, I can think of four very obvious reasons for the results described in the paragraph that begins with the word “Interestingly.” I wonder whether the people who did this study realized what was going on and decided to opt for discretion over valor.

On not-quite-the-same topic, here’s a 2010 paper by Ruffle and Shtudenter:

Job applicants in Europe and in Israel increasingly imbed a headshot of themselves in the top corner of their CVs. We sent 5312 CVs in pairs to 2656 advertised job openings. In each pair, one CV was without a picture while the second, otherwise almost identical CV contained a picture of either an attractive male/female or a plain-looking male/female. Employer callbacks to attractive men are significantly higher than to men with no picture and to plain-looking men, nearly doubling the latter group. Strikingly, attractive women do not enjoy the same beauty premium. In fact, women with no picture have a significantly higher rate of callbacks than attractive or plain-looking women. We explore a number of explanations and provide evidence that female jealousy of attractive women in the workplace is a primary reason for the punishment of attractive women.

So, who are the fiends discriminating against unattractive men and attractive women? Well, it turns out that they are the people staffing the HR department in various companies. And who staffs the HR department?

In light of the above, the jealousy explanation seems especially fitting when we consider that 93% of the respondents in our sample were female (as determined by their voice when they left a voicemail message, their name when they sent an email or by a discreet phone call to the company when there was any doubt as to the respondent’s sex). One may be concerned that the person calling back to invite the candidate for an interview may not be the same discriminating person who screened the CVs. Yet, human resource departments in Israel and indeed throughout the West are staffed predominantly by women. To verify this stereotype, we asked to speak with the person who screens candidates’ CV when conducting the post-experiment survey. In 24 of the 25 (96%) companies we interviewed that person is a female. Moreover, these woman are young (ranging in age from 23 to 34 with an average age of 29) and typically single (16/24 or 67%) – qualities more likely to be associated with a jealous response when confronted with a young, attractive competitor in the workplace.

I think the authors are on pretty safe ground when they note that this phenomenon is largely due to the gender of those typically staffing HR departments.  I am not as convinced that jealousy is the root cause of their behavior, though.

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