- Female company heads are judged more harshly than their male counterparts when their organizations exhibit ethical failures such as a coverup, according a study from the American Psychological Association (APA). However, female CEOs whose companies faced a competence failure, such as a malfunctioning product, didn’t receive as much negative feedback as male CEOs.
- In one of three of the study’s experiments, participants who were told that an auto manufacturer had a fuel sensor problem but failed to take corrective action immediately — an ethical failure — said they would be less likely to buy from the company if the CEO were a woman. In a second experiment involving a competence failure, participants were less likely to buy from a company headed by a man. The study also showed that when CEOs were described as having traits associated with the opposite gender, they were, in some cases, perceived more positively.
- "Our study found that consumers’ trust in, and willingness to support, an organization after a failure varied based on the gender of the organization’s leader and the type of incident," Nicole Votolato Montgomery, of the University of Virginia and lead author of the study, said in a media release. "Women incur greater penalties for ethical transgressions because of persistent gender stereotypes that tend to categorize women as having more communal traits than men, such as being more likable, sensitive and supportive of others. Even in leadership settings, women are still expected to be more communal than their male counterparts."
APA's findings may reveal that unconscious bias is alive and well. Employment experts routinely remind HR that managers harbor these biases, creating a need for both training and standardized performance criteria. When men and women are judged based on different factors, discriminatory hiring and promotion practices can emerge.
And while the report found that men are sometimes judged more harshly, too, such biases may be disproportionately affecting women's advancement opportunities. A new report from LeanIn.org and McKinsey found that barriers for female leaders start long before they enter the C-suite; obstacles often begin at management-entry level. The report showed that for every 100 men promoted or hired into management, 72 women were similarly advanced.
Similarly, research from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School found that STEM companies rated the resumes of women and minority candidates with 4.0 GPAs the same as white males with 3.75 GPAs. In short, men with lower academic credentials were seen as being on par with women and minorities whose credentials were higher. And because tech companies routinely hire more white and Asian males than other groups, barriers against women and nonwhites in the industry persist.
In working to ensure an employer's hiring and promotion practices are as fair as possible, HR can work with managers to design standard interview questions, remove names from resumes, train decision makers and more.