Gender bias is pervasive at work and in organisations, creating inequalities at every stage of the employment cycle. Gender-based stereotypes affect which candidates get recruited for certain roles and which do not, which candidates get selected for those roles and why, how salaries are negotiated, how managers provide feedback to their employees, and which employees receive career development opportunities and career encouragement and which do not. Each of these factors compounds across women’s careers, producing and sustaining gender inequality from recruitment to selection to promotion.

Decades of research has made one thing clear: gender biases are nearly always present in employment decisions, subtly influencing our assessments about who is the ‘right’ or ‘best’ person for the job.

Gender bias in recruitment and selection

Gendered wording in job advertisements. It has long been unlawful to advertise positions specifically for women or men or to discriminate on the basis of sex. However, research has shown that the language used in job advertisements can subtly filter men and women into separate occupations and industries.

Advertisements in male-dominated occupations and industries are more likely to contain masculine-stereotyped words like ‘competitive’ and ‘dominant’ than advertisements for jobs in female-dominated occupations and industries. When presented with such advertisements, women are more likely than men to rate these jobs as unappealing; they also tend to believe that women are not well represented in these roles.

Gender bias in interview invitations

Multiple studies have demonstrated that when women apply for jobs, they receive fewer interview invitations than equally qualified men – an effect that is compounded for older women, women with children and women from certain ethnic or racial groups. Research from Australia and the United Kingdom has shown that men are similarly disadvantaged when applying for entry-level roles or jobs in heavily female-dominated occupations.

Gender bias in evaluation of credentials.

Research has shown how women face tougher evaluation of their credentials during the initial recruitment stage. A Yale University study asked 127 science faculty at research-intensive universities to rate the job application materials of a prospective laboratory manager who was randomly assigned either a female or male name. Both male and female evaluators rated the male candidate as more competent and ‘hireable’ than the female candidate, even though both applications were otherwise identical. Evaluators also recommended higher starting salaries for the male applicant and offered more mentoring opportunities.

These findings suggest that women face more rigorous scrutiny and are held to higher standards than equally qualified men and that, consciously or unconsciously, managers associate candidates’ genders with their likelihood of job-related success.