Studies have shown that hiring in top firms can be skewed towards applicants from wealthy families. But in a surprising twist, new research shows that high social class is only helpful to men. The researchers sent fictitious resumes to 316 offices of 147 top law firms in 14 U.S. cities. All four different “applicants” were equally qualified, with gender differences only signaled by their first names. The wealth of an applicant's family was indicated through their choice of extracurricular activities.
Lower-income resumes would list an award for student-athletes on financial aid, or being a peer tutor for fellow first-generation college students. Their sports and hobbies would have a relatively low barrier to entry such as pick-up soccer or track and field, while higher-class candidates would pursue more traditionally upper-class activities such as Polo, sailing, and classical music. Even though all four resumes showed identical educational and work-related histories, employers showed overwhelming preference for the candidate who appeared to be a higher-class man.
His callback rate was more than four times that of any other applicant, which amounts to more invitations to interview than all the others combined. The researchers wanted to know why, and were especially curious why having a higher-class background seemed to backfire for women. They surveyed 210 attorneys from around the United States, and interviewed 20 more, revealing that lower-class candidates of both genders weren't seen as a “good fit” for prestigious law firms.
Higher-class women were seen as a flight risk. The perception was that they'd “opt out” of a demanding law job to become a “helicopter mom.” To avoid making biased hiring decisions, firms can make small changes to the resumes they collect, like hiding applicants' first names and losing the extracurricular activities and hobbies section altogether. Bias is hard to overcome, but small changes can have a big impact.