Will ‘manning up’ help women get the job?

"There's a lot of advice out there for applicants to help combat this type of bias," says Ann Marie Ryan, "but our research is aimed at figuring out what kind of advice is beneficial and what kind of advice may harm you." (Credit: iStockphoto)

Women who apply for positions in traditional male fields should consider playing up qualities that are considered more masculine to overcome hiring bias.

In a laboratory experiment, women who described themselves using traits traditionally associated with men—assertiveness, independence, and a focus on achievement—were evaluated as more fitting for the job than those who emphasized traits often seen as more feminine—warmth, supportiveness, and nurture.

“We found that ‘manning up’ seemed to be an effective strategy, because it was seen as necessary for the job,” says Ann Marie Ryan, study coauthor and a Michigan State University psychology professor.

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The findings contradict the idea that women who emphasize counter-stereotypical traits might face a backlash for not conforming to expected gender roles. When hiring for a leadership position in a male-dominated field such as engineering, Ryan says, decision-makers appear to be looking for take-charge candidates, regardless of gender. The study appears online in the research journal Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Because there is ample evidence hiring discrimination exists for women, minorities, older workers, and others, Ryan says it’s time to start focusing on why discrimination occurs—and what a job seeker might do to combat it.

Ageism

In another of study, which will appear in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, Ryan and colleagues surveyed unemployed job seekers of all ages under the theory that older people perceive more discrimination and make an effort to downplay their age during interviews.

That theory proved correct. Surprisingly, though, the study found that younger workers also avoided discussing their age, apparently so they wouldn’t be seen as too inexperienced. Ryan says younger job seekers are not legally protected; the law on age discrimination applies to those 40 and older.

Ultimately, Ryan says, it’s not the responsibility of job seekers to ensure their own equal treatment. But she hopes to help candidates find better outcomes in a culture plagued by “pervasive and persistent” discrimination. Often, that discrimination starts during the résumé-screening process, before a candidate even makes it to the job interview.

“Companies and recruiters should make sure they are not exhibiting discriminatory screening practices,” Ryan says. “There’s a lot of advice out there for applicants to help combat this type of bias, but our research is aimed at figuring out what kind of advice is beneficial and what kind of advice may harm you.”

Source: Michigan State University