A Sliding Scale

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Science  27 May 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5726, pp. 1227-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5726.1227d

How hiring decisions are made is, not surprisingly, a topic of broad and continuing interest in view of their impact on people, individually in everyday life and collectively in societal debates about opportunity and outcome. Uhlmann and Cohen describe a trio of experiments showing how shifting standards might contribute to discrimination. In a pair of roughly mirror-image situations, male and female subjects were asked to assess male and female applicants for high-ranking stereotypically male- and female- dominated jobs (police chief and women's studies professor). Contrasting sets of skills (physical fitness versus media savvy) and achievements (publications versus advocacy) were evenly distributed among the applicants, and subjects did in fact evaluate applicant strength on the basis of credentials and not as a function of applicant gender. Male subjects, however, rated media savvy as being a more important criterion for success as a police chief when ranking male applicants who had that skill; similarly, female subjects emphasized advocacy as being crucial when considering female applicants who had been activists for the professorship. These differences then translated into hiring choices, where men favored men in the first competition and women favored women in the second. The simple manipulation of committing to hiring criteria before evaluating the applicants largely mitigated gender bias in the outcomes. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 16, 474 (2005).

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