The Wall Street Journal reported today on a very interesting study dealing with gender discrimination in promotion and job assignments, which was conducted by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School. They came to a very significant set of conclusions.
The researchers used math and verbal aptitude tests as the qualifying event for promotion so as to implicate gender bias because "females are believed to be worse at math tasks and better at verbal tasks than males." They found that the gender of the candidate up for promotion was very influential in the evaluation of that person when that person was evaluated alone, but that when a number of candidates were simultaneously evaluated gender became almost irrelevant.
As the Journal stated, “when employers were presented with information about both a male and a female candidate together, their past performance, rather than gender, was the main factor in determining which additional tasks they would be asked to do.”
Moreover, the study found that individual evaluations resulted in much poorer hiring decisions. “Some 51% of the employers who considered candidates individually chose an employee who had underperformed relative to the group. By contrast, only 8% of the employers who considered candidates side-by-side chose underperformers.”
A co-author of the study postulated that "If you see one pair of shoes in a store, it’s very hard for you to know how this pair compares in terms of quality or price or color. You base your judgment on whatever comes to mind, But when you have different shoes available, all of a sudden you can calibrate the color and quality better."