Tag Archives: Discrimination

Brand You: Pronounceable Names are More Likeable, Maybe More Hireable

Simon Laham

Simon Laham

Personal names, like brands, evoke inferences about likability and specific characteristics, like gender, ethnicity, social class, intellectual competence, masculinity-femininity, and even personality characteristics, according to University of Melbourne’s Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval of University of Leuven, and NYU’s Adam L. Alter.

Peter Koval

Peter Koval

They argue that these assumptions affect impression formation and may lead to bias.

More than 20 years ago, UCLA’s Albert Mehrabian began investigating the impact of personal names and developed the Name Connotation Profile to assess attributions to specific names.

Albert Mehrabian

Albert Mehrabian

He concluded that “people with desirable or attractive names are treated more favorably by others than are those with undesirable or unattractive names,” base on findings from more than ten studies.

Personal names are also associated income and educational attainment, reported Saku Aura of University of Missouri, collaborating with Claremont McKenna College’s Gregory D. Hess.

Saku Aura

Saku Aura

They evaluated the relationship among “first name features” (FNF) including:

  • “Popularity” (frequency),
  • Number of syllables,
  • Phonetic features,
  • Scrabble score (?),
  • “Blackness” (fraction of people with that name who are African-American),
  • “Exogenous” background factors (sex, race, parents’ education).
Gregory Hess

Gregory Hes

In addition, Aura and Hess scrutinized associations between first names and “lifetime outcomes” including:

  • Financial status,
  • Occupational prestige,
  • Perceived social class,
  • Education,
  • Happiness,
  • Becoming a parent before age 25. 



First name features predicted education, happiness and early fertility, which were also related to labor market productivity.
However, workforce productivity can be reduced when discriminatory decisions about names reduce labor market participation, such as for names rated for “blackness.”

Marianne Bertrand

Marianne Bertrand

University of Chicago’s Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard documented this effect when they found that name discrimination affects hiring decisions. 
 Job applicants with “African American-sounding” names were less likely to be invited for a job interview than a person with a “White-sounding” name.

Sendhil Mullainathan

Sendhil Mullainathan

Bertrand and Mullainathan responded to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers by sending fictitious resumes containing “African-American” or “White” names.

They found that “White name” candidate received 50% more interview invitations across occupation, industry, and employer size.
This bias was centered more on inferred race than social class, suggesting that discrimination in hiring practices persists but has become more subtle, and perhaps even unconscious.

Claire Etaugh

Claire Etaugh

Another form of name discrimination is women who take their husband’s surname.
They are typically seen as less “agentic” and more “communal” than those who retain their own names, noted Bradley University’s Claire E. Etaugh, Myra Cummings-Hill, and Joseph Cohen with Judith S. Bridges of University of Hartford.
These attributions are usually associated with stereotypic “feminine” attitudes and behaviors, which can slow career advancement.

David Figlio

David Figlio

Gender-based name discrimination can affect males as well:  Gender-incongruous names seem to invoke social penalties for boys, according to Northwestern’s David Figlio.

He reported that boys who had names usually associated with girls were more likely to be expelled from school after disruptive behavior beginning in middle school.

Daniel Y Lee

Daniel Y Lee

In related findings, Shippensburg University’s David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee found that people with unusual names (less “popular”) were more likely to have juvenile delinquency experiences.

These finding suggest that unusual names may provoke negative and stigmatizing attributions, which can lead to confirmatory behaviors that lead to asocial acts.

Besides racial and ethnic associations with names, some are easier for English speaking people to pronounce.

Adam Alter

Adam Alter

Easy-to-say names are judged more favorably than difficult-to-pronounce names, in related findings by LahamKoval, and Alter.

In fact, they found that people with easier-to-pronounce surnames occupy higher status positions in law firms, demonstrating the importance of “processing fluency”- the subjective ease or difficulty of a cognitive task – when forming an impression.

Laham and team pointed to the “hedonic marking hypothesis,” that posits “processing fluency” automatically activates a positive emotional reaction, which is then attributed to the evaluated “stimulus object” – a person’s name.

They noted that pronouncability strongly influences likeability and other evaluations, and can lead to decision bias, as in hiring choices.

Names matter, whether for products or people, because they carry emotional and cognitive associations that may bias impressions and decisions.

-*How have you modified your name?

-*What have been the effects on how others perceive you?
Your occupational opportunities?

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Attractive Men May Appear More Competent, But May Not Be Hired

Sun Young Lee

Sun Young Lee

Previous blog posts have noted bias in favor of attractive people for hiring and venture funding decisions, as well as for positive impression formation by others.

As a result, less attractive yet capable individuals may face “workplace attractiveness discrimination,” or differential treatment of people based on how they look, according to Sun Young Lee of University College London, University of Maryland’s Marko Pitesa, Madan Pillutla of London Business School, and INSEAD’s Stefan Thau.

Marko Pitesa

Marko Pitesa

In fact, their four studies using different samples, selection tasks, candidate attractiveness, and candidate interdependence found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and organizational context.

Lee’s team drew on two theories to explain differential impact of attractiveness in employment and work task situation: Status generalization and interpersonal interdependence.

Murray Webster

Murray Webster

Status generalization describes how unrelated status characteristics like gender, ethnicity, national origin and attractiveness, become relevant to task performance as observers associate status characteristics with behavioral expectations, leading to group inequalities.
These associations are powerful, and often occur without conscious, logical or evidential basis, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.

James Driskell

James Driskell

Separately, Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell demonstrated that external status characteristics significantly affect face-to-face interactions:  When people work in task groups and physical status characteristics were made salient (skin color, age, social economic status. attractiveness), individuals with the preferred perceived characteristics were more likely to be rewarded with more power and prestige, even when these physical status characteristics are irrelevant to the task.

Martha Foschi

Martha Foschi

As a result, people with relevant skills may be overlooked in favor of individuals with high status outside the group.
Based on status generalization theory, Lee’s team suspected that decision makers associate attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates.

Harold Kelley

Harold Kelley

They integrated this inference with interdependence theory proposed by UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina to suggest that people’s expectations of interpersonal relationships affect their attempts to maximize relational rewards and minimize accompanying costs.
Interdependence theory proposed that people who are interdependent in cooperative or competitive situations discriminate differently based on perceived attractiveness.

John Thibault

John Thibault

To evaluate this notion, Lee’s group assigned male and female volunteers to simulated employment selection situations in which team members interviewed and provided hiring recommendations for job candidates.
These team colleagues are typically in both cooperative and competitive situations with other employees because they cooperate for shared team rewards yet compete for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.

Participants read a hiring scenario describing different types of interdependencies between themselves as the decision-maker and the person hired in the job role, including competitive, cooperative, and no interdependence.

Madan Pillutla

Madan Pillutla

Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos, one showing an “attractive” applicant and an “unattractive” candidate.
Assessors answered questions about the person’s competence, likely impact on their own success, and their likelihood of recommending the candidate for the position.

When the decision-maker expected to cooperate with the candidate, male candidates perceived as more attractive were also judged as more competent, more likely to enable the evaluator’s career success, and were more frequently recommended for employment .

Stefan Thau

Stefan Thau

However, when decision makers expected to compete with the candidate, they perceived attractive male candidates as less capable.
Evaluators discriminated against attractive male candidates by less frequently recommending these competitors for employment, suggesting that these capable candidates were eliminated to preserve the evaluator’s place in the current workplace skill hierarchy.
Attractive and unattractive female candidates were judged as equally competent, but attractive male candidates were rated as much more competent than unattractive male candidates.

Three subsequent studies provided evaluators with candidates’ age, race and education and manipulated headshot to consider in selecting their competitor or collaborator in a tournament task.
Decision-makers generally preferred attractive male or female candidates unless their personal outcomes are affected by the selection decision.

These studies suggested that attractiveness discrimination is “calculated self-interested behavior” in which men sometimes discriminate in favor and sometimes against attractive males.

-*How do you align with “calculated self-interest behavior” to mitigate bias?

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Acknowledge Potential Employer “Concerns” about Gender, Attractiveness to Get Job Offer

Although attractive people enjoy many advantages, as outlined in a previous blog post, attractive women applying for jobs in traditionally male jobs, such as firefighting or engineering, face a double disadvantage: gender and appearance.

Madeline Heilman

Madeline Heilman

The “beauty is beastly effect” is a hiring bias in choosing men or less attractive women for “masculine” jobs, first described by Yale University’s Madeline E. Heilman and Lois R. Saruwatari .

Lois Suruwatari

Lois Suruwatari

They found that attractiveness was an advantage for men seeking both managerial and non-managerial role, but attractive women had an advantage only when seeking lower-level, non-managerial roles.

Michelle Hebl

Michelle Hebl

Attractiveness and gender can be considered a “stigma,” just as disability, obesity, and race, and Rice University’s Michelle R. Hebl and Robert E. Kleck of Dartmouth College reported that members of these groups can reduce hiring biases by acknowledging – even in general terms – their “stigmatizing” characteristic during the interview.

Robert Kleck

Robert Kleck

In addition, women who proactively addressed the employer’s potential concern about gender or appearance in a traditionally male role were rated higher in employment suitability, according to University or Colorado’s Stefanie K. Johnson and Traci Sitzmann, with Anh Thuy Nguyen of Illinois Institute of Technology.

Stefanie Johnson

Stefanie Johnson

Because these candidates assertively anticipated the interviewer’s potential objections, they were also assumed to possess more positive “masculine” traits than other female candidates.
Evaluators were also less likely to penalize these women for displaying “counter-communal” traits, like behaving in contrast to traditional gender role norms.

Traci Sitzmann

Traci Sitzmann

Attractive women’s pre-emptive communication appears to have favorably shaped the rater’s evaluations of employment suitability and buffered the impact of the raters’ acknowledged “hostile sexism” while increasing “benevolent sexism’s” link to employment suitability ratings.

-*How effective you found “pre-emptive objection-handling” in workplace negotiations?

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Gender Transitions Demonstrate Continuing Gender Differences in Pay, Workplace Experience

People who change gender provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of gender on workplace experience and compensation, while holding constant the person’s education and experience.

Two Stanford professors have been profiled to highlight findings by University of Chicago’s Kristen Schilt and University of Arizona’s Matthew Wiswall.

Joan Roughgarden

Joan Roughgarden – Jonathan Roughgarden

Stanford evolutionary biologist, Joan Roughgarden, was an academic for more than 25 years as Jonathan Roughgarden before she made her male-to-female (MTF) transition.
Known for her work to integrate evolutionary theory with Christian beliefs (“theistic evolutionism”), she reported feeling less able to make bold hypotheses and no longer had “the right to be wrong.”

Her experience contrasts her Stanford colleague, neurobiologist Ben Barres, who made scientific contributions as Barbara Barres until he was more than 40.

Barbara Barres - Ben Barres

Barbara Barres – Ben Barres

After his female-to-male (FTM) transition, Ben delivered a lecture at the  Whitehead Institute, where an audience member commented, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is much better than his sister’s.”

To investigate these anecdotal examples, Schilt and Wiswall conducted a survey of FTM and MTF to compare earnings and employment experiences before and after gender transitions.
They modeled the questions after survey items on 2002 Current Population Survey (CPS):

  • Last job before gender transition,
  • First job after gender transition,
  • Most recent job.
Kristen Schilt

Kristen Schilt

Schilt and Wiswall conducted interviews with female-to-male transsexuals (FTMs), who reported that as men, they received more authority, reward, and respect in the workplace than they received as women, even when they remain in the same jobs.

In addition, height and skin color affected potential advantages enjoyed by FTM:  Tall, white FTMs experienced greater benefits than short FTMs and FTMs of color.

Matthew Wiswall

Matthew Wiswall

In contrast to FTM interpersonal advantages, MTF reported reduced authority and pay, and often harassment and termination.

University of Illinois’s Donald McCloskey, for example, was told by his department chair – in jest – that he could expect a salary reduction when he became Deirdre McCloskey.

Deirdre McCloskey

Deirdre McCloskey

MTFs in Schilt and Wiswall’s survey sample experienced significant losses in hourly earnings – nearly 12 percent – after becoming female: no jest.

Additionally, MTFs transitioned on average 10 years later than FTMs, which Schilt and Wiswall interpreted as men delaying sacrifice of labor market advantage attributable to male gender.

FTMs, however, experienced no change in earnings or small positive increases in earnings – 7.5 percent – from becoming men.

Aside from the income impact of gender transition, other workplace hardships including harassment and discrimination.
These challenges were reported more frequently in “blue-collar” jobs, possibly affected by “non-normative” appearance of not consistently “passing” as the other gender.

These findings from “naturalistic experiments” with people who change genders during their careers confirm economic and social science reports of continuing gender-based pay discrepancies.

-*To what extent have you observed these gender-linked differences in compensation and workplace credibility?

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Gender Bias in STEM Hiring Even When it Reduces Financial Returns  

Women are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) academic programs and professional roles, and some question whether this is a a result of personal preference, implicit bias, institutional barriers, or other factors,

Ernesto Reuben

Ernesto Reuben

To investigate, Columbia University’s Ernesto Reuben, Paola Sapienza of Northwestern University, and University of Chicago’s Luigi Zingales developed an experimental job market.
Both male and female candidates demonstrated equal skill in performing an arithmetic task, yet both female and male “hiring managers” were twice as like to hire comparable male candidateseven when the hiring managers earned less by hiring less qualified males.
*Even when participants had a financial incentive to choose the candidate with the greatest task-relevant skills, they chose less-qualified male candidates.

Paola Sapienza

Paola Sapienza

Reuben and team also found that when candidates were asked to report their performance on the task-related achievement test, men exaggerated their performance with “honest overconfidence.”
In contrast, women generally underreported their accomplishments, found University of Wisconsin’s Sylvia Beyer.

Luigi Zingales

Luigi Zingales

This gender-based bias in hiring decisions was reduced, but not eliminated when candidates’ previous performance was provided by a third party.

Sylvia Beyer

Sylvia Beyer

Some candidates were directed to report expected future performance based on initial math task performance, then the “employer” made the hiring decision.
Other candidates provided no estimate, but Reuben’s team reported candidates’ past performance to the “hiring managers.”

In other studies, “employers” had no information on each “candidate’s” previous performance, but met each applicant in person before making a hiring decision.
After the hiring managers’ choice, candidates reported expected future performance, or Reuben’s team provided candidates’ past performance to the “hiring manager.”

Anthony Greenwald

Anthony Greenwald

Volunteers then completed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed by University of Washington’s Anthony Greenwald, Debbie McGhee, and Jordan Schwartz, to elicit unconscious stereotypes of gender, competencies, and occupations.

When the candidates reported their expected performance and the “hiring manager” chose a candidate with a lower score than other contenders, 90% of the selected but underperforming candidates were male.
As a result, “hiring managers” who selected less qualified male candidates sacrificed 5-7% of their own compensation for biased selections.

Pedro Rey-Biel

Pedro Rey-Biel

Reuben and colleagues, with Pedro Rey-Biel of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona previously demonstrated that this preference for underperforming candidates was explained by the persuasive impact of men’s significantly exaggerated statements (usually by at least 30%) about past and future performance and by scores on the Implicit Association Test.

Hyperbole is apparently effective for male candidates in job interviews when the “hiring manager” scores high on the IAT.

However, this embellishment strategy is ineffective for women, as Reuben and team demonstrated:  In another study, women were still selected 33% less than expected even when they showcased their accomplishments.
Women’s overt self-promotion may provoke “backlash” against those who behave in counter-stereotypic ways.

This research suggests the prevalence of implicit biases against hiring women to perform science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) functions, and male candidates’ tendency to embellish past performance and boast about future potential accomplishments.

As a result, women are selected less frequently for roles in STEM careers, continuing their under representation in these fields.

Even if women do not exaggerate past accomplishments and future potential, this research implies that they should ensure that they communicate and reinforce the full range of skills.

“Real life” hiring managers can overcome implicit hiring biases through awareness and “proper information processing” by focusing on validated performance data, and comparing candidates of the same gender with each other..

-*What strategies have you seen mitigate the influence of implicit bias influence in hiring decisions?

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Transference in Everyday Life Biases Memory, Emotions

-*Ever catch yourself in what feels like an irrational re-enactment of well-practiced scenarios from your past, but recreated in the present with someone entirely different?

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

 Sigmund Freud described this experience as “transference,” redirecting feelings applicable to one person, often an important figure in one’s childhood, onto a different individual in the present.

Though the current recipient of feelings may have different characteristics, motivations, and behaviors than the original person, something about the present individual triggered unconscious reenactment of earlier feelings.

Susan Andersen

Susan Andersen

NYU’s Susan Andersen and Alana Baum demonstrated transference in lab studies when they asked volunteers for descriptions of important people in their lives for whom they had positive feelings or negative feelings.
To contrast the results, Andersen and Baum also presented descriptions of other people’s significant others.

Later, Anderson and Baum described an unknown person seated next door, using either the emotionally-positive or emotionally-negative descriptions of someone from the volunteer’s life or someone else’s life.

Participants demonstrated transference when they more completely recalled the stranger next door’s description when it resembled their own significant other rather than someone else’s.

Recall was enhanced because the salient features of the significant other’s description were memorable when assigned to a new person.
This demonstrated biased inference and memory based on “accessibility” and distinctiveness of the earlier triggering memory, according to Anderson’s collaborators Steve W. Cole and Noah Glassman.

Transference is an outgrowth of attachment to others in the past, according to Queens College’s Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh and R. Chris Fraley University of Illinois.

R. Chris Fraley

R. Chris Fraley

In their research , participants learned about two potential dating partners:  One description resembled a romantic partner from the past whereas another description matched another participant’s former partner.

These volunteers reported feeling both less avoidant and more anxious toward potential dating partners described as similar to previous significant others.
Brumbaugh and Fraley noted that participants “applied attachment representations of past partners” to any potential future partner, but to a greater extent when the new partner was described as resembling an important past partner.

Susan Fiske

Susan Fiske

Earlier, Princeton’s Susan Fiske described this transfer of affective responses to a new individual, as schema-triggered affect and Andersen teamed with Berkeley’s Serena Chen to summarize the socio-cognitive explanation for transference.

People modify views of themselves and others in transference situations.

Serena Chen

Serena Chen

Katrina Hinkley and Andersen demonstrated that volunteers modified their working self-concept and biased recall of details about the new person when a representation of an earlier significant other was “activated.”

 In their study, participants learned about the new person.
When re-evaluated, participants’ list of the new person’s attributes changed to include elements of the self when with the former significant person.

Michael Kraus

Michael Kraus

Transference occurs even when a target person possesses an attribute incompatible with the significant other’s characteristics, found University of Illinois’s Michael W. Kraus with Berkeley’s Chen, Victoria A. Lee, and Laura D. Straus.

Participants demonstrated transference in biased memories and judgments about a person they perceived as similar to a former significant other.

This effect was manipulated to elicit positive impressions even when the target was from an ethnic out-group, suggesting ways to reduce stigma and discrimination by evoking positive transference from past experiences to present actors.

Baum and Anderson demonstrated that transient mood during a current transference experience is related to one’s positive or negative interpersonal role with the significant other, and whether this role is consistent with the new person’s role.

They observed that participants’ transient mood was more positive when the target of their transference resembled their own significant other and occupied a similar role to the original person.

This suggests that transference in the workplace can be most problematic when current people seem similar to others from the past, including their work roles, and evoke negative emotions associated with earlier interactions.

-*How do you manage transference reactions in work and social situations?

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Role Pioneers May Encounter “The Glass Cliff”

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer

Holding a role usually occupied by the other gender can lead to significant media coverage, such as Sally Ride’s selection as an astronaut or Marissa Mayer’s appointment as CEO of Yahoo while in the later stages of her first pregnancy.

However, incumbents of roles usually held by people of the other gender can evoke harsh judgments about competence and suitability for leadership roles, according to Yale’s Victoria Brescoll and Erica Dawson with Eric Luis Uhlmann of HEC Paris.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

This effect was most noticeable when both male and female leaders in “gender-incongruous” roles made minor errors in experimental studies.
Both male and female evaluators judged minor mistakes as indicators of role incompetence when male and female leaders held jobs typically performed by the other gender.

Erica Dawson

Erica Dawson

Brescoll, Dawson and Uhlmann suggested that “gender-incongruous” roles are seen as “ambiguous” by observers, leading to uncertainty, and negative assessments to “restore implicit order.”
The team referred to this rater bias as the “glass cliff effect.”

The researchers concluded that “the high status and senior leadership achieved by both men and women in gender-incongruent roles is fragile, vulnerable and unstable.”

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Eric Luis Uhlmann

This effect may be due to both the role’s gender incongruity and high status.
An earlier blog post highlighted Alison Fragale’s demonstration that higher status individuals are judged more harshly than lower status people when they make the same mistakes.

Alison Fragale

Alison Fragale

Her team at University of North Carolina found that observers in two experiments attributed greater intentionality, malevolence, self-concern to the actions of high status wrongdoers – and recommended harsher punishment for the same actions that earned lower status people “the benefit of the doubt.”

Although Brescol, Dawson and Uhlmann did not offer recommendations to mitigate the risks of being a pioneer in holding non-traditional job roles, Fragale’s team found that high status wrongdoers could protect from the impact of subsequent mistakes by demonstrating, warmth and concern for others and engaging in charitable giving.

Other strategies to consider include:

  • Cultivating strong executive alliances and sponsorship
  • Assembling a risk mitigation team to provide expert messaging during a crisis, focusing on external attributions of the error
  • Balancing demonstrated competence with the “humanness” of a small error
  • Offering plans for future action unrelated to the error to demonstrate decisive leadership and action-orientation.

-*What approaches are most effective to mitigate “The Glass Cliff”?

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Women’s Likeability – Competence Dilemma: Overcoming the Backlash Effect

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