The Token Woman or Minority in a Job Pool Has Zero Chance of Being Hired

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A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that considering only one woman or minority candidate in the hiring process isn't enough to promote diversity. When there's only one woman or minority in a candidate pool their chances of getting hired are "statistically zero," the study found and The Guardian reports. When there was just one additional candidate representing either group, the chances of one of them being selected rose significantly. 

For their study, authors Stefanie K. Johnson, David R. Hekman, and Elsa T. Chan first looked at how race factors into hiring decisions. They asked 144 undergraduate students to evaluate the resumes of three candidates, some of which were given stereotypically white-sounding names and others black-sounding names—besides the names, the candidates' qualifications were the same. Participants were far more likely to choose a candidate presumed to be white when selecting from a white majority and a black candidate from a black majority. When the team conducted a similar study with men and women, they saw the same results.

For a third study, the researchers examined the data for 598 job finalists considered by one university to see if this phenomenon occurred in the real world. When there were at least two women in a finalist pool, they were 79.14 times more likely to be hired than if they were the only female candidate. For minorities, their likelihood of getting hired became 193.72 times greater. This trend held true no matter the size of the final pool.

The researchers' findings support the theory that status quo bias has an impact on hiring decisions. We already know that our brains tend to prefer to have things stay the way they are, and for most companies that means a majority white, male workforce. If there's only one woman or minority in a pool of candidates, hiring them could subconsciously be perceived as "disrupting the status quo." If there are multiple women or minorities to choose from, employers are suddenly working with a different status quo.

Study author Stefanie K. Johnson further explained to The Guardian how being the sole representative of your group can hurt your job prospects: “I have been in hiring situations where people are like, well, we can’t just hire this person because they are a minority. But if you didn’t know they were minority, you might have hired the person anyway. If you are pigeonholed as that one minority, no one really looks at their qualifications, they just look at the fact that they are a woman.”

Women make up close to half of the total labor force but only hold a third of all senior management positions. The numbers for minorities in corporate leadership positions are even more dismal. According to these new findings, companies who are committed to building more diverse workplaces will need to do more than add a token woman or minority to their candidate pool.

[h/t The Guardian]