Gender and the Evaluation of Job Applicants in Natural Settings
Researchers have pointed out that occupational sex segregation will not be fully understood until detailed data are collected on natural (Biernat & Fuegen 2001) and non-scripted interactional settings (Ridgeway & Correll 2004) which are central to gender and employment (Ridgeway 1997). This paper makes a direct contribution to this goal by applying experimentally established theory to a natural environment that involves the live interaction of applicants and evaluators who are recruiting them for jobs. Gender status theories argue that gender systematically shapes the way men and women are perceived in evaluative and task oriented contexts when gender differentiates actors in the setting (Correll & Ridgeway 2003; Foschi 2000). Specifically, Status Characteristics Theory (SCT) predicts that, in such settings, men will have an advantage over women because individuals hold higher performance expectations for men than for women (Berger et al. 1977; Foschi 1989.) In other words, because there are broadly shared cultural beliefs implying that men at better at the things that count, specific men will also appear more skilled than specific and equally competent women. If these mechanisms are at play in hiring settings, the implication is that employers will be more likely to hire the male applicant even when the female applicant is equally qualified. Although hiring contexts are almost never accessible to researchers, this project identifies and takes advantage of a unique setting that (1) permits direct observation and data collection on real hiring decisions made in the course of direct interaction and (2) meets the scope conditions of SCT. The context of this study is the Spanish exam system that is used to recruit candidates to fill important government jobs. Women are currently underrepresented in these positions filling only about 30% of them. Exams to become a government employee in Spain are public and involve the face to face interaction of evaluators and job applicants. Applicants go through a series of qualifying testing rounds; those who succeed at all stages are automatically hired. This setting is exceptional in that: (1) is accessible for direct observation and data collection, (2) the event of interest (i.e. exam) repeats sufficiently so as to evaluate theory-driven claims statistically, and (3) exams are fairly structured, which deems the lack of strict controls less problematic. I examine quantitative pass/fail exam data and information gathered from direct observation of exam sessions. I use SCT and draw from (and extend) Ridgeway?s ideas about gender and social interaction to make the following predictions. First, following SCT, I predict that (1) male (female) applicants will be advantaged (i.e. pass at higher rates) in exams involving skills typically perceived as neutral (feminine). Second, I extend Ridgeway?s discussion of gender and interaction, by arguing that (2) the degree of applicant-evaluator interaction will shape the magnitude of prediction one. In other words, larger differences in passing rates between male and female applicants will be observed at exams involving a greater degree of applicant-evaluator interaction than at those exams characterized by minimal interaction. Both hypotheses were confirmed empirically thereby suggesting that (a) SCT appropriately explains the outcome of interest, and (b) the degree of interaction shapes the size of SCT?s predictions. The results of my work suggest that the mechanisms discovered in controlled environments are at play in actual hiring settings. Second, my results also suggest that it may be useful to conceptualize interaction as a continuous measure shaping the size of SCT?s predictions.
Gender; Sex Segregation; Status Characteristics Theory