October 19, 2021
Written by Merrit Stueven, MPP ’22
Edited by Anisha Asundi, WAPPP Research Fellow, and
Moira Notarstefano, WAPPP Communications Manager

How job matching and skill type shape discriminatory hiring behavior

In the most recent installment of WAPPP’s fall seminar series on intersectional approaches to gender equity, Professor Kate Weisshaar discussed her research on gender and racial discrimination in hiring. Specifically, how discrimination varies depending on how closely an applicant’s skills and experiences match job requirements. Professor Weisshaar and her collaborators Dr. Koji Chavez and Tania Cabello-Hutt conducted two studies to examine the impact of stereotypes and the importance of different skills in job matching, focusing on the matching of soft skills over job-specific skills.

In the first experiment, the authors asked study participants to evaluate job applications that had been designed to signal the applicant’s gender and race. The study participants were either told that recruiters at the hiring firm had decided the applicant matched the job’s requirements or did not match them. They were then asked to evaluate if the applicant should have provided more evidence to demonstrate their skills in five areas—capability, commitment, leadership, assertiveness, and responsibility.

The authors found that the application of stereotypes varied based on whether the survey participants had been told the applicant matched or did not match the job requirements. For example, when evaluating the applications of individuals, they had been told matched the job description, survey respondents did not evaluate Black and white men and women very differently. However, when told that candidates did not match the job requirements, Black men and white women were rated as needing to show more evidence of their abilities.

Interestingly, Black women were evaluated relatively similarly to white men regardless of if they reportedly met or did not meet the job requirements. Professor Weisshaar discussed this finding in the context of the concept of intersectional invisibility, according to which Black women may experience lower racial and gender stereotyping in certain situations in comparison to Black men and white women. A competing theory, which was not supported by the findings of this study but which the authors considered, is the concept of double jeopardy—that Black women may experience compounding stereotyping because of both their gender and their race.

In the second experiment, resumes that again signaled race and gender and contained randomized skills were submitted to hiring firms. The researchers focused on firms hiring senior accountant positions since accountants need to have both soft and technical skills, and the profession is relatively gender-balanced with a reasonably clear job hierarchy. The researchers coded the skills on the submitted resumes as well as the skills in the companies’ posted job descriptions to create a measure of job matching, including the number of matching accounting skills, number of matching soft skills, and if the applicant had more or fewer years of experience than required.

The authors then evaluated this measured level of match and employers’ perceived level of match, based on if they requested to interview an applicant. From the overall levels of interview requests, discrimination was visible—employers were significantly less likely to request interviews with Black candidates, with Black men least likely to receive an interview request. When looking at the different matching measures, the authors found that while matching accounting skills had no impact on the rate of interview requests, matching soft skills and experience significantly decreased discrimination against Black men and white women. Black women also saw a benefit from matching soft skills, but this was not statistically significant, and the impact of matching years of experience was less clear for Black women.

The authors interpret these findings as support for the idea that discrimination manifests through some groups, especially Black men and white women, needing to provide additional proof of their qualifications to receive the same recognition for their skills. In addition, the findings also provide additional evidence for the intersectional invisibility explanation of Black women’s experiences. Going forward, the authors think that further research, including research on attention bias and on extreme cases of (mis)matching like overqualification, would help build a clearer image of how job matching factors into discriminatory hiring practices.