It’s best to be a rich, white guy in America. Also, water is wet
Newsflash, you guys: in America, rich men have the most fun, the best jobs, the most money – they’re basically winning, and doing it way more often than any of the rest of us. A new study by the Harvard Business Review reaffirms this unfortunate fact of life, and discusses specific ways in which class cues and gender can effect recruitment decisions.
The field experiment focused on the legal sector, and analyzed data based on four nearly identical (fake) resumes for four (fake) law students. The legal industry can be especially unforgiving to those who fail to emit some sort of elite pheromones.
The way of the world
If you’re at a top law school like Harvard or Yale, the recruiters swarm you. If you’re a top law firm, the students swarm you for internships. If you’re a student without a degree from a top school, or an internship with a top law firm, you’re probably out of luck unless you want to go into an “inferior” area like non-profit work. The legal profession has its own 1 percent, and it always has that new-suit smell.
Basically, if you want the big name and the big bucks, you better get that big internship.
But if you’re a woman or you didn’t grow up in a wealthy household, you probably have to be a whole lot better than everyone around you to even get an interview.
Proof is in the pudding
The Harvard Business Review created four sample resumes, sent out to 316 offices of 147 top law firms in 14 different cities. Each fake candidate attended the same school, earned the same awesome GPA, served on the law review, and listed the same work experiences. Gender was signaled by first name, and class status was signaled by things like awards, extracurriculars, and hobbies: Sailing vs. Track and Field, classical music vs. country music, athletic award vs. athletic award for those on financial aid, peer mentor for first year students vs. peer mentor for first-generation college students.
Slightly more surprising was the fact that being wealthy didn’t seem to make up for being a woman. The lower class female and male candidates each received more interview invitations than the upper class counterpart, making rich women the least desirable candidates of the four.
Why was having money hurting women’s chances?
The HBR conducted a second experiment to investigate. They sent the same four resumes out to 200 practicing attorneys nationwide, asking each attorney to assess one of the resumes to determine whether they’d like to interview them. They also asked each attorney to rate the candidate on relevant factors based on perception, which are proven to vary between men and women, like competence, likeability, organizational fit, and career commitment.
As before, the upper-class, male candidate was everyone’s favorite. The survey found that attorneys perceived both higher-class candidates as better fits with the (high class) culture and customers of the top firms.
But higher-class women were viewed as less committed to working a demanding job.
That means these attorneys, and 20 more individually interviewed attorneys, believe women are more likely to leave a job for an easier role, or for “family” reasons.
Beating a dead horse. (Not really, chill PETA)
That’s right, you guys. Because women are capable of growing, birthing, and parenting children, their plates are already full, or might, you know, eventually sometime in the future be full enough? And upper class women probably already have enough money, right? So why on earth would they ever choose to pursue a career? Just another example of women behaving illogically, I guess…
The HBR study ultimately cites intersectionality as an explanation for their findings: “When it comes to understanding sources of advantage and disadvantage, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Like everything else in the labor market, privilege works differently for men and women.
How do we fix it?
Well, if you’re an employer, you can request initials instead of full names, to mitigate gender bias. You can also forgo information like extra-curriculars and hobbies, which have more potential to reveal class cues, though attendance at a top tier university will continue to send those signals.
As a candidate, you can also choose to omit this information on your resume, and to avoid listing awards and honors that might indicate class or background. But for many candidates, that would mean eliminating all or most of their impressive accomplishments. Everything’s a trade off, but if you’re after that 1 percent lifestyle, some tweaks might be worth making.