How Subtle Class Cues Can Backfire on Your Resume

From the Harvard Business Review

https://hbr.org/2016/12/research-how-subtle-class-cues-can-backfire-on-your-resume

[I]magine four applicants, all of whom attend the same, selective second-tier law school. They all have phenomenal grade point averages, are on law review, and have identical, highly relevant work experiences. The only differences are whether they are male or female and if their extracurricular activities suggest they come from a higher-class or lower-class background. Who gets invited to interview?

We set out to answer this question in a series of studies reported in the December 2016 issue of American Sociological Review.  Based on prior research showing that hiring in top professional services firms is highly skewed toward applicants from wealthy families, we expected that an applicant’s social class background would play a decisive role in determining interview invitations. And indeed, we found that, in contrast to our national lore that it is individual effort and ability—not family lineage—that matters for getting good jobs, elite employers discriminate strongly based on social class, favoring applicants from higher-class backgrounds. But our research uncovered a surprising — and disturbing — twist: coming from an advantaged social background helps only men.

We uncovered this through a field experiment with the country’s largest law firms. Specifically, we used a technique — known as the resume audit method — that is widely seen as the gold standard for measuring employment discrimination. This method involves randomly assigning different items to the resumes and sending applications to real employers to see how they affect the probability of being called back for a job interview….

Even though all educational and work-related histories were the same, employers overwhelmingly favored the higher-class man. He had a callback rate more than four times of other applicants and received more invitations to interview than all other applicants in our study combined. But most strikingly, he did significantly better than the higher-class woman, whose resume was identical to his, other than the first name…

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But even though higher-class women were seen as just as good “fits” as higher-class men, attorneys declined to interview these women because they believed they were the least committed of any group (including lower-class women) to working a demanding job. Our survey participants, as well as an additional 20 attorneys we interviewed, described higher-class women as “flight risks,” who might desert the firm for less time-intensive areas of legal practice or might even leave paid employment entirely. Attorneys cited “family” as a primary reason these women would leave. Parenting strategies vary between social classes, and the intensive style of mothering that is more popular among the affluent was seen as conflicting with the “all or nothing” nature of work as a Big Law associate. One female attorney we interviewed described this negative view of higher-class women, which she observed while working on her firm’s hiring committee. The perception, she said, was that higher-class women do not need a job because they “have enough money,” are “married to somebody rich,” or are “going to end up being a helicopter mom.” This commitment penalty that higher-class women faced negated any advantages they received on account of their social class.

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