Why more than one woman is needed in a candidate pool to level the playing field
Although this piece came out a few years ago, it bears a second (or third) thought: In 2016, three researchers at University of Colorado completed a series of studies on diversity hiring practices. The key question was how people can overcome the unconscious bias that undermines the good intentions of corporate diversity initiatives.
The researchers conducted three studies on how job positions were filled from a pool of final candidates:
- The first study focused on racial bias, with 144 undergraduate students reviewing three finalists for an athletic director position. The finalists had the same credentials, but different races (either two white and one black candidates, or two black and one white candidates). When the majority of finalists were white, the reviewers tended to recommend hiring a white candidate; when the majority were black, they tended to recommend hiring a black candidate.
- The second study focused on gender bias, with 200 undergraduate students reviewing three finalists for a nurse manager position. When two of three finalists were men, reviewers tended to recommend hiring a man; when the majority were women, participants tended to recommend hiring a woman.
The conclusion? When two minorities are in the finalist pool, a minority becomes the preferred candidate.
Image courtesy of Harvard Business Review
The researchers then conducted a third study on a university’s hiring decisions for academic roles, among white and non-white men and women. The sample was 598 finalists, 174 job offers over three years and finalist pools that ranged from 3-11 candidates.
They found that in scenarios with two female finalists, women had a significantly higher chance of receiving a job offer – up to 79 times greater when there were at least two women in the finalist pool. This effect remained regardless of the size of the pool.
The graph above shows the statistical probability of hiring in various gender-diverse scenarios. Notably, when there is only one woman in a finalist pool, her chances of being hired are statistically near-zero. The researchers attribute this to human bias – a standalone minority deviates from the norm and is perceived as a riskier choice.
The study shows us that bias can be designed around and that a tactical approach to diversity is needed to do this. Instead of a blanket policy to include at least one minority in a finalist pool, pools should be widened to allow at least two minorities to compete on a level playing field.
The researchers call this a “get two in the pool” effect – one which is needed to account for statistically lower appraisals for women and ethnic minorities.