Imagine you are a successful filmmaker in Hollywood. You are planning to make a big budget action thriller full of explosions, car chases and gun battles. Your next step is to generate a short list of actors to consider for the lead role. What names do you think of?
Most people immediately imagine people like Dwayne Johnson, Tom Cruise or Ryan Reynolds. In other words, male actors. This is because “action thriller heroes” are usually associated with stereotyped male characteristics. When people imagine candidates for these roles, it is easier for men to meet the requirements.
Movies are not the only industry affected by this prejudice. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields with Leadership positions It is well known that high-level organizations are male-dominated, even if these organizations claim that they are committed to diversity.
One problem is that despite the public commitment of the organization, cognitive biases permeate all types of decisions, including hiring choices. My colleague’s research, Published in the journal “Natural Human Behavior”, Focus on the informal recruitment process. Specifically, we check the informal short list: the initial list of candidates for a role. This list usually includes the most important candidates—the new disciples of your mentor, the employees who stood out at last month’s meeting, the recommendation of Uncle Joey—and in male-dominated industries, they tend to be men. Our research proposes a seemingly simple solution to this problem: extend the informal candidate list.
In the initial set of studies, we asked 858 college students and other adults to participate in the thinking exercises described at the beginning of this article for Hollywood filmmakers. We asked participants to make a short list of three actors they would consider playing the lead role. Then we asked them to expand their initial list by adding three names. We found that although the original list contained approximately 1:8 male to female ratio, the expanded list contained approximately 1:6 male to female ratio, or a 33% increase in female candidates (all ratios were reported to be rounded).We call it increase Longer short list effect.
We found similar results in two other studies in the technology industry. In all studies, we recruited 265 people with backgrounds in this field and asked them to imagine that they are consulting for a California technology startup that is looking for a new CEO. Participants were asked to present a list of three potential candidates for consideration by the company, and then were told to expand the list by adding three names. We found that although the original list contained approximately 1:6 male to female ratios, the expanded list had a ratio of approximately 1:4, which means a 44% increase in female candidates.
How to explain this? The longer short list effect is related to the way your brain recalls information. When you think of “action thriller heroes,” you naturally think of the most typical or common examples you have ever seen (for example, Dwayne Johnson).But the more questions you think about, the more answers you have Deviate from the prototype reply. Therefore, in the category where the archetype is male, generating more responses will prompt you to go beyond the archetype and reduce the likelihood of a male response.
We tested this mechanism in the study of child role models, which is a field with both male and female archetypes. In two studies, we recruited 672 parents of young children and asked them to create an initial list of three role models for their children, and then told them to expand the list with three additional names. As expected, the initial list generated by the boy’s parents mainly contained male role models (for example, Tom Hanks), indicating that this is a male gender category. Another expected result is that when these parents extended the shortlist, the number of women increased by 46%—a significant increase. In contrast, the initial list generated by the girl’s parents mainly contained female role models (for example, Michelle Obama), indicating that the girl’s role models represented female gender categories. Consistent with the prototype divergence mechanism, for girls’ parents, the number of women on the extended shortlist has decreased by 7% compared to the initial number-although the decline is small, as predicted.
In our final study, we investigated whether a longer candidate list would not only lead to more female candidates being considered, but also lead to more female candidates being selected. We recruited 2,166 people with experience in the technology industry and asked them to complete the task of finding a CEO for a startup company used in our previous experiment. In this study, we randomly assigned participants to generate a short list of six candidates (longer list condition) or a short list of three candidates (shorter list condition). Consistent with previous studies, the shorter list conditions resulted in a ratio of about 1:5 males and females, and the longer list resulted in a ratio of about 1:4—the number of female candidates increased significantly by 16%. However, in the selection When selecting candidates, the selection of female candidates under the longer list condition (17%) is not significantly higher than the selection of female candidates under the shorter list condition (15%).
Although it is disappointing that considering more women did not lead to the selection of more women, this study illustrates the reality that the informal candidate list is only one of many steps in the career promotion process. The study found Different steps require different interventions to promote gender equality. An intervention that increases the likelihood of being on the short list may not increase the likelihood that a person will stand out. But we should not expect an intervention to affect every step of the process. We should not view longer shortlist interventions as a panacea, but as a cornerstone that can be combined with other interventions to achieve gender equality goals. These may include activities that explicitly promote the hiring of more women or weaken gender stereotypes associated with roles.
Our research results show that expanding the informal candidate list can improve gender equality in the recruitment process, especially for male-dominated positions.This strategy is immediately applicable to hiring managers, but also to anyone who has the ability to allocate career opportunities, such as mentoring, training, team assignments or Third party recommendation. There are still some limitations to keep in mind. For example, our research is a survey experiment. The next step in future research is to replicate our findings in the field or organizational environment. We hope that researchers and practitioners will continue to test the effect of a longer candidate list as a low-cost step to promote gender equality.