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Gender inequality in the workplace can in some cases start at the hiring level

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Research into gender equality in the work place has revealed that women are at a disadvantage long before they reach board level. In fact the inequality can begin at a much earlier point, at the hiring level in fact.

Academics, Isabel Fernandez-Mateo, an associate professor at London Business School and Zelia King from Henley Business School in the UK, looked at data from a recruitment company recommending temporary staff to companies in the IT sector. They discovered, that when all else was equal the agency put forward candidates to their clients based on gender stereotypes.

The academics discovered that when candidates for jobs registered with the recruitment company, the female candidates were more likely to be short-listed for lower paid projects and less likely to be short-listed for higher paid projects. But in complete contrast say the writers, the companies that were using the agency to short-list potential employees, were more likely to interview women “for almost all projects”.

The study examined data from a mid-sized staffing agency in the IT sector. the figures covered nine years and more than 23,000 candidates for almost 7,000 jobs for more than 2,000 clients.

The problem say the writers begins when the staffing companies practise what they describe as “anticpatory gender sorting”. For the recruitment agencies the most important consideration “is to please the client to generate repeat business”. As a result the agencies produce a list that they believe meets the expected preferences of the clients – male for high paid jobs and female for lower paid jobs.

“Thus by assuming that clients will prefer women to men for certain jobs (even if they may not) stereotyping becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The writers point out that once all the candidates are put up for interviews they then – male and female – have an equal chance of being appointed to a higher-paid job, however recruitment agencies will place more men than women in the initial interview pool.

The paper, Anticipatory sorting and gender segregation in temporary employment, can be read online at Management Science.

● The maxim you are what you eat rings loudly in the minds of many and has led to a growing consumer awareness of the food that they eat and importantly, what goes into it. Consequently legislation in many countries means that manufacturers have to reveal all the ingredients of the product on its label.

One would assume that the longer the list of ingredients, the more off-putting for consumers, but according to Anirban Mukhopadhyay of HKUST Business School, this is jumping to the wrong conclusion.

The associate professor says that health conscious consumers who are attracted to packaged foods that are clearly not unhealthy believe that unfamiliar additives listed on the label help to make the product more healthy. As a result they are willing to pay more for such products.

“The function of a food label is to communicate how healthful the food is,” he says. “Given a food that is plausibly healthful, such as low-fat yogurt, the presence of unfamiliar additives requires the reader to make inferences about how healthful the food actually is.”

Those consumers who are concerned about their health are more likely to make an extra effort when it comes to reading and understanding the list of additives and in making this additional effort are likely to view the product as more healthy, he adds.

As a result “Faced with unfamiliar ingredients, people who are health-conscious may value the food more and show increased preference and willingness to pay”.

In his paper, Some like it unnatural: lay inferences about additives in food products, Prof Mukhopadhyay adds that manufacturers should take “good cheer” from his findings as it demonstrates that listing all the additives on the label could reinforce the message on the front of the product.

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