Do Racial Stereotypes Influence Hiring?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that because I’m an African-American female that I have more information than anyone else about racism and gender bias … actually, yes, I do think that. How could I not, when I’ve experienced both firsthand? But surely some things are obvious to everyone?

Apparently not. WSJ recently reported on a new study based on research from Harvard and Northwestern universities that says hiring managers are more inclined to fill roles where skills such as aggression, competitiveness or a penchant for fostering collaboration are desirable based on racial and gender stereotypes rather than candidates’ skills or personality.

For instance, traits associated with masculinity such as competitiveness are associated with African-Americans more than other races. More feminine traits such as the ability to collaborate are associated with Asians more than other groups.

The online study pool was relatively small. The 148 participants — 100 of whom were women — assigned fake job seekers to one of two different positions based on resumes and job descriptions. Some 43 percent of participants assigned African-Americans with the masculine position, 37 percent chose white applicants and 16 percent chose Asians.

Adam Galinsky, co-author of the study, is now working on additional research, which posits that because leadership positions often need both stereotypically masculine and feminine traits, black women and Asian men may have a leg up in the labor market over black men or Asian women.

On the one hand, great for me — I’m in a winning group for once. On the other, hiring managers will need some help looking past faces and gender to the skills that likely are more important to ensure success in the workforce.

Phew! The diversity executive’s work is never done. And, there’s always a lesson for yours truly: just because something is obvious to me, doesn’t mean others won’t benefit from a heads up.