Jack and Jill went up the hill
To seek jobs that were sought-after,
Despite her knowledge and skill,
Recruiters rejected Jill,
Whilst Jack made Senior Partner…
My attempt to rewrite this classic nursery rhyme was born out of reading an article in the Guardian recently entitled Sexual Discrimination in science: why we must act now, highlighting the Discrimination experienced by female scientists in the US. Jo Handelsman (Yale University) undertook a research experiment where she created 127 applications to university faculties, purporting to be from recent science graduates seeking a laboratory manager's job. The applications were identical as to level of knowledge, skill, experience etc, the only difference being that 63 were from "John" (Jack to his mates) and 64 were from Jennifer (our Jill). It transpired that Jennifer was ranked less competent, less mentor-able and on average, was offered a salary near $4000 less than John.
One of the conclusions drawn by Jo Handelsman was that for the large chunk of women that are good, as opposed to exceptional; where the subjective and objective evaluations of recruiters really do matter, they are unlikely to be offered the same 'break' or chance to shine in the same way that men are. This isn't something that is limited to US women in the sciences by any means, as the UK stats make glaringly obvious - only 36.4% of public appointments, 14.2% of university vice-chancellorships, and 16% of FTSE director posts, go to women.
Picking up on Jo Handelsman's point that it is the average women who are often looked over, it seems that what Jo is saying is right, although possibly not just limited to average women, but that it applies also to really good women (who we expect our scientists and lawyers to be!) Whatever the case may be, what really are the chances for those in the median? Lower median pay than the blokes sitting next to them, no doubt - this is what the evidence tells us.
Jo Handelsman recommends that hiring panels should sift and shortlist the best female applicants (not by comparison with the male applicants). Although 'positive action' can be controversial, I do find myself wondering why we shouldn't take something from this approach, particularly in sectors where it is apparent there is a gender balance problem. After all, despite the purported shift of attitudes towards women at work, too many women are still being discriminated against as things stand.
Click here for more information about Sex Discrimination at Work.