Surprise! Women are penalized for being smart

Dear President Trump,

Laura came across an interesting sociology study out of Ohio State University yesterday. The author is Natasha Quadlin, an Assistant Professor who studies social inequality, gender, family, and education. The study has two parts, the first of which involved sending out over 2,100 pretend resumes for over 1,000 entry-level positions (so 2-ish per opening) across the country to see which ones were chosen to go on to the interview stage. The resumes varied by gender (male/female), GPA (low / low medium / high medium / high), and field of study (English/math/business). She used the most popular regional baby names for the birth years of her fictional recent college grads and avoided using surnames that are tied to any particular ethnicity.

Are you with me so far? I know reading is not your strong suit and you run away from anything science-y.

Anyway, the second study involved getting responses from about 260 people who routinely decide whether to call back job applicants for interviews. Quadlin had them respond to two of the fake resumes from Study 1 and asked whether they would interview the person and why they made whatever decision they made.

Before getting to the results I want to say that none of them are all that surprising, but they are validating, dismaying, galling, and instructive. And now – drumroll please….. What she found is that in Study 1, men’s grades didn’t make a significant difference in whether they would be called for an interview while the women in the two middle grade categories were significantly more likely to be interviewed than those in either the low or the high grade categories. Moreover, high-grade men were nearly twice as likely as high-grade women to be granted an interview and if they were math majors the difference shifted to 3:1 in favor of the men. Pulling the veil back on these findings with Study 2, Quadlin found that would-be hirers focused on competence and commitment across majors and grades when it came to hiring men, but looked for likeability when it came to hiring women, which appears to have led them to favor the middle grade women over the high grade women, who they generally perceived to be “over-qualified,” “difficult,” and “arrogant.”

It’ll be important to see if these studies replicate, but I think it’s fair to say that we already have hundreds of thousands of real life replications available for scrutiny, some hyper-local and some playing out on the national stage. Like, for example, how we are debating which of the incredibly competent, high achieving, committed women running for president have the crucial “likeability” ingredient going for them. Lord knows, a woman can’t be successful if she’s too fricking smart and doesn’t do a good job of hiding her light so she doesn’t outshine the men around her and risk threatening their precious masculinity.

We all know this dynamic exists, these findings could help us move out of the realm of anecdote into the tough reckonings we need to do together so that we aren’t systematically leaving anyone’s talent and drive on the table.

May we all be safe to be best 🙂
May we all be happy to let everyone’s light shine fully.
May those of us with fragile egos buck up.
May we all make peace with the fact of powerful women.

Tracy Simpson

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