The key to promoting more women to senior management? Groom, and present at least two female candidates when it comes to putting forward a slate of candidates.
The latest research shows that when only one woman is put forth as a candidate among gender-mixed slate for an open job, she has a zero statistical probability of being hired. The culprit in this case isn’t simply gender bias. Rather, it’s also our innate bias towards maintaining the status quo (which is often in practice difficult to separate from unconscious gender bias since much of unconscious gender bias reflects social status quos).
Professors from the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business reported on a series of studies which placed female and male candidates in front of panels of hiring decision-makers. In their studies, they conducted experiments whereby they changed the ratio of male and female candidates in their applicant pools. What they found is that when at least two minorities or women appeared in a candidate pool of finalists (of a total slate size of 4 candidates), a woman or minority was more likely to be chosen as the final candidate. This might sound like a simple statistical truism. After all, the more women there are in a pool, the more likely a woman is to be hired, right? Well, no. The researchers found that “Each added women in a pool does not increase the probability of hiring a woman — the difference between having one and two women seems to be what matters.” They found similar results for race.
The authors of the study concluded that the reason why having one woman isn’t sufficient to change the status quo is that by being isolated, the woman is by definition a clear deviation from the norm, which can be seen as “risky” for decision-makers.
If this is true, the implication is that the well-known “Rooney” rule doesn’t go far enough. The Rooney Rule is the National Football League’s policy to put forth one minority candidate for consideration into an open leadership role. It was also recently extended to women in it’s executive ranks. It is named for Pittsburgh Steelers’ chairman Dan Rooney, who pushed the league to require that at least one minority candidate was put forward for consideration every time there was an opening for a general manager in the NFL. (Though it is often confused with affirmative action, there is nothing about the rule that gives that minority candidate any preference for selection.
There are certainly many reasons to include more women candidates when considering an important hire. Research shows that diversity is good for business, and diverse points of view are important for critical business outcomes. However, this new research shows there is no need for tokenism (which can be damaging and ineffective) if we simply want to see more women and minorities in leadership. Simply putting more than one woman or minority forward for consideration doesn’t — and shouldn’t — ensure they will be hired, but it certainly does help counteract our unconscious biases to preserve the status quo.
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