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Both men and women face gender discrimination in jobs usually filled by opposite sex, study says

Study from a University of North Carolina Charlotte researcher finds gender discrimination against both men and women when they apply for jobs typically filled by the other sex. But there are differences at various stages of hiring process.
Study from a University of North Carolina Charlotte researcher finds gender discrimination against both men and women when they apply for jobs typically filled by the other sex. But there are differences at various stages of hiring process.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Both men and women may face some employment discrimination if they are applying for jobs more commonly associated with the opposite sex, new research shows.

For example, men who apply to be housekeepers or women to be janitors are less likely to be called for interviews than their peers of the opposite sex.

That's what sociologist Jill E. Yavorsky found when she sent out 3,000 applications for working-class and middle-class jobs. She selected jobs precisely because they were associated mostly with one sex or the other, then sat back to see which of her applications generated calls for an interview.

"One of the biggest findings is that discrimination during early hiring practices is really concentrated among working-class jobs in male-dominated fields," said Yavorsky, an assistant professor at University of North Carolina Charlotte.

"This is important because we've seen the least amount of integration progress among working-class people. The jobs there are as segregated as they were in the 1960s," she said. This is in spite of the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in the early 1970s banned gender-based job discrimination, and the Supreme Court shortly after ruled that newspapers couldn't sort "help wanted" postings into his and hers categories.

Yavorsky's study looked at jobs statistically associated with females, including middle-class jobs in human resources and administrative support as well as working-class jobs involving housekeeping and customer service. The jobs dominated by males were manufacturing and janitorial at the working-class level and financial analysis and sales at the middle-class level.

Men were called back for the male-dominated working-class jobs 44 percent more often than women were. And when ads specified traits like strength and mechanical ability, she noted, women got only half the callbacks the men got.

Women were called back for the "female" middle-class jobs 52 percent more often than men and for "female" working-class jobs 21 percent more often. The number of female callbacks was even higher when the ads for those jobs specified friendliness and customer service.

Yavorsky's findings are being published in online Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Social Forces, and the Council on Contemporary Families released an advance briefing paper today.

What's often overlooked, Yavorsky said, is that gender discrimination in employment hurts men, too.

"We have these ideas around what men and women should want to do in terms of work, as well as what they are capable of doing based on these gendered expectations," she said. "And what I find is that men are generally considered incongruent with female-dominated work, regardless of the occupational class — and that discrimination is often magnified when the job is female-dominated, as well as emphasizes feminine attributes job seekers must display if they want to get the job."

"Her findings show that sexist stereotypes about what women OR men can and can’t do well ultimately limit the options of both sexes," said Stephanie Coontz, the council's director of research and public education and author of several books on marriage and family life including, most recently, "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap."

"They keep women who could excel at meeting physical or mental challenges from getting jobs that reward those skills, and they keep men who could excel at communicating, interpersonal interactions or caregiving out of jobs that reward those equally important skills," Coontz said.

The study

To be part of the study, a job had to be at least 65 to 70 percent dominated by one sex, Yavorsky said. And it had to be an entry-level job where a general resume could be used.

"For example, had I included an engineering job, I would have had to include a specific engineering resume," she said. "So I looked at jobs with expectations to which people with broad experience could apply, and I also tried to make them all pretty comparable in terms of entry-level status so I was comparing apples to apples."

Yavorsky also paid attention to the wording of job advertisements. The so-called feminine traits in her experiment included being friendly, cooperative, or teamwork-oriented. Communication skills were associated with women, she found, while strength and mechanical ability were coded as being more masculine.

Yavorsky found that discrimination for men was greatest if they applied for middle-class jobs that are more often associated with women.

She also found that women have an equal chance with men of getting entry-level jobs in middle-class occupations that are normally held by men. But it's an entirely different story when women apply for high-paying middle-class jobs more typically held by men. In those instances, women "lag badly."

Change over time

Though both men and women faced gender-based discrimination, women take a somewhat bigger hit as more disadvantaged, Yavorsky told the Deseret News, because of what happens in those "elite, male-dominated jobs" where women don't get promoted at the same pace. She also said men's wages tend to rise more than women's.

The CCF briefing paper is published along with an interview with Coontz by Virginia Rutter, a professor at Framingham State University in Massachusetts. In it, Coontz notes that the "greatest wage discrimination by gender used to be in working-class and lower-middle-class jobs. But as wages and job security in many traditional blue collar jobs have fallen, we now see the opposite, with the biggest gender wage gaps at the top of the occupational ladder."

Still, Yavorsky sees reason for both men and women to celebrate gains.

"The fact that I find no discrimination in middle-class entry-level male-dominated jobs suggests that women may experience fewer barriers making it into these jobs. That's actually quite important; this is where we've made the most progress over 40 years or so."

Yavorsky noted that men and women are largely considered equal in terms of cognitive ability now, with genders deemed comparable "in terms of rationality and being evenly smart."

Yavorksy hopes employers will consider ways to reduce bias and discrimination in their hiring practices, she said. They can use less-gendered language in their ads "that may subconsciously steer them to select particular genders for the job." They need to think about how their biases may influence their hiring-related decisions, even unconsciously, she noted.

"And one of the biggest things is to set evaluative criteria of their requirements for job seekers and ensure those are applied to every applicant equally."