Managers see more “potential” in male job candidates: study

Managers are more likely to overlook potential for advancement in female candidates, study suggests

Two men and two women sitting in a row in an office setting.

(Dan Dalton/Getty)

Say you’re on a executive search committee and you have to decide between two star candidates, a man and a woman. Which one do you go for? New research suggests you’re likely to assume the man is more competent and has greater potential, even if the two candidates have identical qualifications. As a result, employers are likely passing over excellent hires, to the detriment of their organization.

To simulate a real-life hiring scenario, Kent University researchers asked participants (61 men, 39 women) to rate the profiles of four potential applicants, all around the same age, for a managerial position. The participants were instructed to evaluate each candidate’s resume and to predict how successful each one would end up being.

When comparing two male candidates with equal experience, but one said to have leadership potential, study participants rated his resumé higher and perceived him as being a more successful candidate overall. But when comparing two female candidates in the same circumstance, the one said to have leadership potential was not perceived to be a better candidate.

The findings provide initial evidence that women’s leadership potential is not recognized by potential employers, said Abigail Player, a doctoral researcher who contributed to the study. “This is a significant barrier to career progression and success for women.”

However, there is some evidence to suggest that, at least in some careers, women are becoming more in-demand. Just not in ones that provide a direct path to the c-suite.

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, when asked to rate junior scientists based on scholarly accomplishments and job interview performance, academics in the traditionally male-dominated STEM fields rated female candidates as being more hireable than their equally qualified male applicants.

Some researchers attributed the findings to the fact women, in order to obtain a STEM Ph.D., have to overcome different obstacles than men, making them stronger candidates.