Women who have to focus less on their professional careers to raise a family face prejudice later in life, according to a UGent study on gender discrimination in the labour market.
Researchers Stijn Baert and Hannah Van Borm found that although the modern labour market is more accommodating to mothers than has previously been the case – no clear differences were found in the statistical hiring chances between men and women overall – women continue to be subjected to certain stereotypes.
As part of the study, the researchers submitted fictitious candidate profiles to 290 recruiters in the United States and tracked how candidates were evaluated. Although this test was carried out abroad, researchers cautiously assume that the results reflect other labour markets, including that in Belgium.
"We found that employers perceived women to be more social, supportive, open, and creative than men. Yet women are also seen to have fewer physical abilities and to be less assertive than men, as well as more absent due to childcare responsibilities," the study concluded.
Challenges for African American women
Employer perceptions about female job applicants changed most if the applicant was black or mentioned an unemployment gap due to family responsibilities in her résumé. In the latter case, these candidates were far more likely to face prejudice during the hiring process.
Researchers also found that positive perceptions — such as seeing women as more supportive and more creative — are less likely to be triggered when the female applicant is black.
"In the context of our experiment, African American women are perceived in a less positive light than white women," the study read.
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The researchers stressed that this did not directly translate into different hiring chances between white and black women. However, this is not to say that negative perceptions "won't influence other work-related decisions (e.g., promotion, remuneration, or dismissal decisions)."
Driving fairer policies
These findings are crucial from a policy perspective: understanding how women are perceived differently when hiring can assist governments in "developing targeted policy measures that counter barriers experienced by women."
Baert and Van Borm stressed that these policies should support women with domestic care responsibilities and that authorities should distribute parental leave more equally among parents.
In addition, they stressed that more practical tests should be organised to expose gender discrimination.