Men face more sex discrimination when job hunting

Men are more likely to face sex and gender discrimination when applying for jobs than women, according to a US study of 3,000 job applicants.

Research by the sociologist Jill E. Yavorsky at the University of North Carolinaexamined whether job applicants with the same experience and qualifications, were treated differently by employers based on their sex. 

It is generally assumed that sex/gender discrimination is something that only happens to women, but the research found that both men and women can face discrimination when applying for jobs that are commonly associated with the opposite sex.

Overall research found that men were more likely to be overlooked by employers based on their sex or gender for both white-collar and working-class jobs. Women were also subject to discrimination when applying for working-class jobs, but not white-collar jobs.

Why is the relevant to men's health? 

Employment and economic security are two of the key social factors that shape our health. This research deepens our understanding of the disadvantage and discrimination that men and women can face in the world of employment. The study also highlights how gender stereotypes can shape the lives of men and women.

More broadly, the draft National Men's Health Strategy (2020-2030) states that the work we do to improve men's health must address “the structural and systemic barriers to good health” that men face, yet it lacks detail on what the systemic barriers to good health in men are. 

By shining a light on some of the disadvantages that men face when seeking employment, this research is a reminder that we need to think more deeply about the systemic and structural barriers that shape the lives and health of men and boys. 

For more information of some the issues addressed here see the following pages from our #Better4Men report

How the research worked

The research attempted to look at both sex and gender discrimination in the job market, by measuring whether equally qualified men and women were treated differently when applying for a position.

Sex discrimination was examined by submitting job applications to four categories of work that are commonly associated with one sex, to test whether male-dominated jobs unfairly favoured men and female-dominated jobs unfairly favoured women. The positions chosen for the study were:

  • White-collar, male-dominated jobs: financial analyst and sales rep (in areas like securities, commodities and financial services) 
  • White-collar, female-dominated jobs: administrative support and human resources 
  • Working-class, male-dominated jobs: manufacturing and maintenance/janitor positions 
  • Working-class, female-dominated jobs: housekeeping and customer service 

Gender discrimination was examined by first identifying whether a job advert called for stereotypically masculine traits, stereotypically feminine traits or was gender neutral. There research measured whether this translated into a preference for male or female candidates, irrespective of whether the job was in a male-dominated or female-dominated field.

Traits defined as stereotypically masculine included: physical strength; leadership; independence; assertiveness; technical aptitude; analytical thinking and ambition.

Traits defined as stereotypically feminine included: friendly; team orientated; organised and good communication skills. 

Sex/gender discrimination was measured by counting how many male and female candidates received a positive callback from the employer, which in most cases meant being invited to an interview.

The study concluded that women applying for working-class jobs faced discrimination in male-dominated roles, particularly when employers expressed a preference for candidates with masculine traits. The men in the study faced discrimination in female-dominated roles in both working-class and middle-class contexts, particularly when employers specified a preference for candidates with feminine traits.

A summary of five of the key findings from the study are detailed below.

1. More Employers Look For Feminine Traits Than Masculine Traits

One of the findings the study revealed was that employers were more likely to seek candidates with feminine traits. The preference for feminine traits over masculine traits was even found in male-dominated, white-collar jobs. Based on the positions chosen for the study, the research found that employers advertising:

  • Female-dominated, white-collar jobs were nearly 6 times more likely to ask for feminine traits in a candidate (59% v 10%)
  • Female-dominated, working-class jobs were more than 3 times more likely to ask for feminine traits in a candidate (52% v 16%)
  • Male-dominated, white-collar jobs were around 50% more likely to ask for feminine traits in a candidate (37% v 25%)

The one exception to this pattern was male male-dominated working class jobs, with employees being 2.7 times more likely to ask for masculine traits in a candidate (48% v 18%).

2. Employers Asking For Feminine Traits Discriminate More

Employers seeking feminine traits favoured women and employers seeking masculine traits favoured men. This bias was slightly more pronounced for jobs requiring feminine traits:

  • Feminine white-collar jobs were 44% more likely to favour women (13% v 9%)
  • Masculine white-collar jobs were 18% more likely to favour men (13% v 11%)
  • Feminine working-class jobs were 20% more likely to favour women (12% v 10%)
  • Masculine working-class jobs were 43% more likely to favour men (10% v 7%)

3. Gender Neutral Job Ads Don’t Prevent Discrimination

Employers whose job adverts were “gender neutral” and didn’t specify a preference for traits that were masculine or feminine, were the least likely to discriminate.

  • Gender neutral, white-collar jobs were 22% more likely to favour women (11% v 9%)
  • Gender neutral, working-class jobs were 11% more likely to favour men (10% v 9%)

This difference was more pronounced in some male-dominated and female-dominated jobs:

  • Gender neutral, female-dominated, white-collar jobs were 75% more likely to favour women (7% v 4%)
  • Gender neutral, male-dominated, working-class jobs were 50% more likely to favour men (9% v 6%)

4. White-Collar Employers Discriminate Against Men

Discrimination against men appears to be more consistent in white-collar jobs:

  • Adverts for white-collar jobs, were more likely to specify feminine traits (and so favour female candidates) in both female-dominated and male-dominated jobs
  • Where adverts were gender neutral, employers were nearly 25% more likely to favour female candidates
  • Men retained an advantage when applying for white collar roles calling for masculine traits (18%), but this was lower than the advantage experienced by white-collar women responding to gender neutral adverts (22%) and adverts requiring feminine traits, which were 44% more likely to favour women.  

5. Working-Class Employers Discriminate Against Men and Women

Discrimination against men in working-class jobs showed a different pattern:

  • In general terms, jobs requiring feminine traits favoured women (20%); jobs specifying masculine traits favoured men (43%) and gender neutral job adverts gave men a slight advantage (11%)
  • There was a strong bias towards men in male-dominated, working-class jobs, but where the advert specified feminine traits, women were favoured over men (60% more likely to get a call back)
  • For men applying for female, working-class jobs the bias against men was consistent, even when the advert specified masculine traits, women were still favoured over men (40% more likely to get a call back)

Comment From The Author

Speaking about her research, Yavorsky said

"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. 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."

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