In the wake of the second Presidential debate, the media has focused, rightfully, on Governor Romney’s comments about a “binder full of women.” To be clear, he said,
“And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of -- of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.”
What the media has not focused on, however, is that while this comment may have raised the ire of millions of Americans across the county, Romney is just a messenger. There are academic studies that show that equality for women is being undermined at every turn – even things like what we wear can influence others’ opinions about our level of intelligence and trustworthiness; and in industry, biases favor hiring, promoting and mentoring equally qualified men over women. And these biases are not only present in men; women undermine each other. At the end the end of it all, we have met the enemy and it is ourselves.
P&G convened a study back in 2011 to understand the extent to which cosmetics played in perceptions of women by men and women. Nancy Etcoff, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard found that, “For the first time, we have found applying makeup has an effect beyond increasing attractiveness—it impacts first impressions and overall judgments of perceived likeability, trustworthiness and competence. In today’s world of self-portraits appearing on networking and dating websites, ballots, resumes and applications, the results of the study have broad implications.”
The study was conducted in two parts with 100 high-resolution color images of 25 women, ages 20-50, who self-identified as Hispanic, Caucasian or African American. A professional makeup artist was used to apply three different makeup looks (natural, professional and glamorous). The first study (61 men and 88 women) of different ages and ethnicities were shown pictures of the faces for 250 milliseconds. The second study (30 males and 89 females) were given unlimited viewing time. All the participants were asked to rank the faces that they saw based on attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness and competence. The findings were illuminating:
- When viewed at 250 milliseconds, all makeup looks increased not only ratings of attractiveness, but of competence, likeability and trust compared to ratings of the same faces with no makeup
- On longer inspections, this pattern was observed for two of the makeup looks (natural and professional, but not for the third.
- Faces with the highest luminance contrast (glamorous) were judged to be significantly more attractive and competent but equally likeable, and less trustworthy than the same faces without makeup.
- While most effects were positive, judgments of trustworthiness increased or decreased depending on inspection time and makeup look.
Science Magazine and the American Association of Advancement of Science recently covered a study that was published by Corrine Moss-Racusin, entitled Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. (The title is a spoiler.) A team at Yale University asked 127 professors at six U.S. universities to review and assess a “candidate” that was hoping to become a lab manager before entering graduate school. Each of the 127 were sent identical resumes, except that half were from a “female” candidate and the other half were from a “male” candidate. The net/net: the reviewers were more likely to hire the man, pay him a higher salary, and see him as more worthy of mentoring. These biases were equally strong among female and male scientists, and did not vary by race, age, or science discipline.
Today, there are technologies and algorithms that do everything from making you the Mayor of your favorite Starbucks, giving you the “best” search results, finding the “lowest airfare” and mapping the human genome. With all this technology at hand, there is little time spent trying to develop technology that help schools, organization, and public and private industries hire based on merit. And until we can use all that we have before us to change the biases that are ever-present in humans, women will need to be shopped around in a good old analog binder.