"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Playing up “manly” side may help women enter male-dominated fields

Aug. 7, 2014
Courtesy of Michigan State University
and World Science staff

Wom­en ap­ply­ing for a job in male-dominated fields should con­sid­er play­ing up their mas­cu­line qual­i­ties, in­di­cates new re­search by Mich­i­gan State Uni­vers­ity schol­ars.

In a lab­o­r­a­to­ry ex­pe­ri­ment, wom­en who de­scribed them­selves us­ing “mas­cu­line”-like traits (as­ser­tive, in­de­pend­ent, achieve­ment ori­ented) were eval­u­at­ed as more fit­ting for the job than those who em­pha­sized female-like traits (warmth, sup­port­ive­ness, nur­tur­ing).

“We found that ‘man­ning up’ seemed to be an ef­fec­tive strat­e­gy, be­cause it was seen as nec­es­sary for the job,” said Ann Ma­rie Ryan, co-author and psy­chol­o­gist. The proj­ect is part of a se­ries of stud­ies on bi­as in hir­ing.

The find­ings re­fute the idea that wom­en who em­pha­size count­er-stereotypical traits might face a back­lash for not con­form­ing to ex­pected gen­der roles, the re­search­ers added. When hir­ing for a lead­er­ship po­si­tion in a male-dominated field such as en­gi­neer­ing, Ryan said, de­ci­sion mak­ers ap­pear to be look­ing for take-charge can­di­dates re­gard­less of gen­der. Sci­ence is an­oth­er field where men out­num­ber wom­en.

The study ap­pears on­line in the re­search jour­nal Psy­chol­o­gy of Wom­en Quar­ter­ly.

Ryan is work­ing with cur­rent and form­er doc­tor­al stu­dents on a raft of re­search look­ing at the dis­crimina­t­ion that cer­tain groups face in the job hunt – and, im­por­tant­ly, what peo­ple might do to count­er it.

Be­cause there’s am­ple ev­i­dence hir­ing dis­crimina­t­ion ex­ists for wom­en, mi­nor­i­ties, old­er work­ers and oth­ers, Ryan said it’s time to start focus­ing on why dis­crimina­t­ion oc­curs – and what a job seek­er might do to com­bat it. She is con­duct­ing re­lat­ed re­search on groups rang­ing from eth­nic mi­nor­i­ties to mil­i­tary vet­er­ans to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

An­oth­er of her stud­ies, to ap­pear in the Jour­nal of Man­a­ge­ri­al Psy­chol­o­gy, 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. The the­o­ry proved cor­rect, Ryan and colleagues said, but sur­pris­ing­ly young­er work­ers al­so avoided dis­cussing their age, ap­par­ently so they would­n’t be seen as too inex­perienced.

Ul­ti­mate­ly, Ryan said, it’s not job seek­ers’ re­spon­si­bil­ity 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 said. “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.”

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Women applying for a job in male-dominated fields should consider playing up their masculine qualities, indicates new research by Michigan State University scholars. In a laboratory experiment, women who described themselves using “masculine”-like traits (assertive, independent, achievement oriented) were evaluated as more fitting for the job than those who emphasized female-like traits (warmth, supportiveness, nurturing). “We found that ‘manning up’ seemed to be an effective strategy, because it was seen as necessary for the job,” said Ann Marie Ryan, co-author and psychologist. The project is part of a series of studies on bias in hiring. The findings refute the idea that women who emphasize counter-stereotypical traits might face a backlash for not conforming to expected gender roles, the researchers added. When hiring for a leadership position in a male-dominated field such as engineering, Ryan said, decision makers appear to be looking for take-charge candidates regardless of gender. Science is another field where men outnumber women. The study appears online in the research journal Psychology of Women Quarterly. Ryan is working with current and former doctoral students on a raft of research looking at the discrimination that certain groups face in the job hunt – and, importantly, what people might do to counter it. Because there’s ample evidence hiring discrimination exists for women, minorities, older workers and others, Ryan said it’s time to start focusing on why discrimination occurs – and what a job seeker might do to combat it. She is conducting related research on groups ranging from ethnic minorities to military veterans to people with disabilities. Another of her studies, which will appear in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, is titled “Strategies of job seekers to combat age-related stereotypes.” 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. The 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 said younger job seekers are not legally protected; the law on age discrimination applies to those 40 and older. Ultimately, Ryan said, 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 said. “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.”