Addressing Potential Gender Bias in the Hiring Process
I’ve been working in the talent acquisition department of my company (an insurance company). I noticed a trend in the hiring of new brokers: almost all of them were male. I watched as many female applicants were eliminated, often before an interview, despite having equally matched credentials compared to the male applicants.
To me, this was clearly sexist, so I brought up my observations with my manager. She explained that traditionally the company has seen higher sales success rates with male brokers versus female ones. She claims to have the numbers and data to back this up.
I’m debating whether I should even bring up this topic again - how do I argue with numbers? By the way, I’m a man.
Thanks for raising this issue. I’m not an attorney, so I can’t address the question of whether there is a discriminatory hiring pattern. Let’s focus on who, ultimately, makes the decision, the company’s values, data that your manager described, and the possible role you might play in address the issue.
Let’s start with a conversation with your manager that ultimately ties into the company’s stated values. It might be useful to get some history about how and why the data were collected and why they even examined gender as a variable. What was most important to the company at the time: new sales, customer retention, size of account, etc. This will help you understand the context. You can then have a conversation about whether this hiring practice is aligned with the company’s stated values and goals. If they were to find a similar difference with race, ethnicity, hair color, or accent instead of gender, would they still continue the hiring practice? If not, what’s the difference? Who made or continues to make the hiring decisions giving men the advantage? Is it only broker applicants who receive this treatment or does it extend to applicants for other company positions?
As you talk with your manager, you’ll get a sense of her views, whether she’s tried to change things and if so, what the response has been. Perhaps the two of you can work together to address the issue.
Another question focuses on equity. What was the company’s support of the brokers at the time the data were collected? Was there equity in support, resources and compensation? Were the male and female brokers whose data were collected equally experienced at selling? If the men had more experience, that would explain the data—it’s not related to gender but experience level.
Bias could have affected the data in other ways. Bias may have led male brokers to receive more resources or compensation (possibly leading to increased motivation to sell). Bias in how men and woman have traditionally been raised may have led male brokers to ask for (and receive) more resources than the female brokers. If bias was an issue, it can be addressed. As more and more men have been hired as brokers, it’s possible that the environment for the female brokers who are there becomes less motivating, further skewing the data in a self-fulling prophecy.
Finally, it might be interesting to review that data yourself, ideally first alone so you can examine it at your leisure, then later with your manager. You might look at: the number of sales, the dollar amounts, the retention of customers, customer ratings (for branding purposes)/relationship management, the time period over which the data were collected, etc.
What type of data did your company examine and what type did they NOT examine? The answers often tell you something about what the company values, particularly if different numbers conflict with each other. For instance, if the data showed that men did better at closing a new account but women did better at retaining their customers, why did the company privilege new accounts over retention? What happens if you divide the data into the time before versus during the pandemic—do the data tell a different story so that any “advantage” for men disappears?
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