Does gender bias exist when credentials are measured objectively? According to a Yale School of Management study, it does.

Researchers at the SOM found that female investment professionals’ advice received less attention than that of their male counterparts, even when pertinent information about performance was available. Co-authors Tristan Botelho, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the SOM, and Mabel Abraham, assistant professor of management at the Columbia Business School, analyzed data from an online platform where investment professionals share stock recommendations. They then mapped initial interest in individual recommendations and later evaluations of professionals’ advice, depending on the author’s perceived gender.

Data showed that investors were more likely to click on profiles of analysts with traditionally masculine names than those with traditionally feminine names, but clients’ ratings of professionals’ investment advice were not dependent on the analyst’s perceived gender.

“Evaluation processes are a foundation of most market and organizational settings, and their outcomes have significant economic implications,” Abraham said in a Columbia University press release. “An individual’s characteristic, like their gender, can have a major effect on evaluations, making them more of an art than a science.”

In the study, Botelho and Abraham noted that previous research has shown that women are often held to higher standards than men of similar ability and must outperform their male counterparts to receive equal rewards. Botelho said that his research, published in Administrative Science Quarterly, goes a step further by showing that this phenomenon exists even in industries like the investment industry, “where professionals are incentivized to be objective.”

For this study, researchers analyzed a two-staged process: Professionals first view a list of investment recommendation summaries to determine which are worthy of further consideration and, afterward, may view recommendations in more detail and rate them on a five-point scale. To determine possible gender bias in this process, Botelho and Abraham used an IBM algorithm generated from census data, which calculated the probability of each recommender’s name belonging to a woman.

“For example, let’s say there are 100 people in the U.S. named Matthew and 100 of them are male, so you can fairly certainly say that the odds of a woman having the name ‘Matthew’ are zero,” Botelho said. “Whereas if a name is like Taylor and 60 are men and 40 are women, you would classify about 40 percent likelihood that a person named Taylor is a woman.”

According to Botelho, data analysis showed that the recommendations of those with traditionally feminine names received 25 percent less initial attention than those written by authors who were perceived to be male. Even when only male names were used in the sample, those with more feminine names received fewer views, he said. When recommendations were considered alongside more detailed profiles, however, evaluations did not differ significantly between professionals with more and less feminine-sounding names.

For Botelho, the results of the study show that the “female penalty” is most prevalent when less information about performance is available and that subconscious gender bias continues to play a significant role in workplaces and hiring processes.

“In male-dominated industries, I think if you’re looking at a resume and see a woman’s name and you’re used to working with men, you may put her resume on the bottom of the pile just because that’s not what you’re used to,” Botelho said.

Given the results of the study, Abraham and Botelho recommended that organizations minimize gender identification in evaluation processes. Employers could, for example, remove the first name from job applicants’ resumes. The researchers also suggested that increasing the amount of women in male-dominated industries like investment could decrease the reliance of gender markers in evaluations.

“While I don’t have much to say on gender bias in the investment industry, it’s no surprise to see additional quantitative evidence confirming that such bias exists,” said Andrew Mulherkar SOM ’19.

A 2003 study by the United States General Accounting Office showed that between the years 1983 and 2000, women earned 21 percent less than men in comparable fields.

Natalie Wright | natalie.wright.nw287@yale.edu