JOB SEARCH / AUG. 22, 2014
version 3, draft 3

Do Women Need to Man Up to Get the Job?

It is pretty widely reported that there is a persistent shortage of women in what have traditionally been male roles.  From engineering to computing, women have often struggled to break through in these fields.  There have been many attempts to understand why this is, with answers tending to range from sexism to poor marketing of these professions.

A recent study suggests a tactic that women might employ if they wish to thrive in this masculine world, but I’m not sure it’s one that women will neccessarily appreciate.

The study, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, discovered that when women used typically masculine traits to describe themselves, they were believed to be much more suitable to ’masculine’ professions than when they used more feminine traits.

For the purpose of the study, masculine traits were described as things such as independence, assertiveness and even a focus on achievement.  Feminine traits by contrast were suggested to include things like nurturing, warmth and supportiveness.

We found that ‘manning up’ seemed to be an effective strategy, because it was seen as necessary for the job

“We found that ‘manning up’ seemed to be an effective strategy, because it was seen as necessary for the job,” says co-author of the study Ann Marie Ryan, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

The research findings suggest that the notion that women will suffer if they don’t conform to gender stereotypes is actually not all that accurate.  Instead, recruiters seem to want traits that conform to that role.  So for instance, a leadership position in an engineering company might require candidates who can take charge of a situation.  The gender is largely irrelevent.

Ryan goes on to suggest that it is important now to focus on what to do about discrimination.  She suggests that the case that discrimination exists is largely cut and dried, we need now to move on and do something about it.

In a companion study, Ryan and her team also explored the issue of age discrimination in the workplace.  They conducted a survey of unemployed people of various ages, and it emerged that older job seekers were being forced to hide their age when interviewed due to discrimination in the past.

Interestingly however, it also emerged that younger candidates would employ the same tactic, with the aim being that they wouldn’t highlight their relative inexperience.  Whilst ageism laws try and support older candidates, there is no such protection for younger candidates, with most age discrimination laws kicking in when candidates go past 40 years of age.

Ryan suggests that the best course of action is for job seekers to be proactive in ensuring they get equal treatment during the recruitment process.  She hopes that her research will help candidates to apply better strategies, especially in environments where discrimination has historical roots, and is often applied throughout the process, from screening CVs all the way through to interviews.

“Companies and recruiters should make sure they are not exhibiting discriminatory screening practices,” Ryan concludes. “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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