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Sexism in job hunting: How to get what you’re worth

Gender discrimination in hiring is alive and well, but here’s what you can do to get the job you want in spite of it


While gender discrimination in hiring is alive and well, women have to learn to overcome it. Traversing the hiring process can be tricky and downright difficult, but don’t settle for less than what you know you’re worth.

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It’s been 100 years since white women were given the right to vote, and many women of color couldn’t enjoy this unrestricted right for another 50 years.

It’s been close to 60 years since it became illegal to discriminate against women when it comes to wages, and employment discrimination based on sex was banned.

But there are still rampant inequalities that affect women’s financial futures.

Sex-based wage and employment discrimination might be banned, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist anymore. Women still may have a harder time climbing a career ladder than men. Women still get paid less.

Women also may still have to try harder than men to even land a job.

It becomes especially clear in difficult times, like we’re currently facing. In the middle of the pandemic and economic recession, job losses are hitting women harder, and it might be more difficult for them to get back into the workforce.

See related: Traversing unemployment: Steps to ensuring your financial security

In such a socio-economic climate, it’s essential for women to be equipped with knowledge on how to overcome these challenges and get the job they deserve. Read on to learn more about the problem and what you can do to get what you’re worth.

The truth about hiring discrimination

When you read job ads online, you may often see disclosures promising that the company in question ensures “equal employment opportunity without discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

Unfortunately, the reality is often different.

To Laura Handrick, contributing HR professional at Choosing Therapy and owner of an HR and business consulting agency, gender-based discrimination is an ugly real-world topic.

“I’ve seen it firsthand with hiring managers who provide post-interview feedback such as ‘she’s wearing an engagement ring’ as a reason not to hire someone,” she said. “Another told me he never hires anyone newly wed because she’s likely to leave within a year to have kids.”

According to Handrick, managers have been trained not to say those things since they know they can be fired for it. Still, they think these thoughts and can make decisions based on what the woman is wearing and whether her handshake is firm or gentle.

Hiring discrimination in numbers

Such real-life experiences are backed by multiple studies and statistics.

Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Research on how stereotypes impair women’s careers in science published on PNAS in 2014 suggests that without any information other than a candidate’s appearance, both male and female recruiters are twice as likely to hire a man as a woman.

The researchers also found that communicating expected performance boosted male candidates’ chances of being hired to 92% and barely had any effect on those of female candidates.

When employers in the experiment were presented with examples of actual performance, women’s chances went up to 43%, which is still over 20% lower than the probability of a man being picked.

Source: “How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science” by PNAS, 2014.

Furthermore, an experiment conducted by Jill Yavorsky for the Council on Contemporary Families in 2019 demonstrated that working-class women applying for male-dominated jobs faced significant discrimination.

For instance, in manufacturing and janitorial positions, men were 44% more likely to receive a callback from employers than equally qualified female applicants. This kind of bias hurts men as well, as they are also less likely to be hired for traditionally female-dominated jobs, the study shows.

Unfortunately, not much seems to be done to change this. Lean In, a global community helping women achieve their career goals, wrote in its 2018 report called “Women in the Workplace” that fewer than one in four companies uses tools to reduce bias when reviewing resumes, and reviewers often fail to give equal consideration to women and people of color, as well as other underrepresented groups.

Considering these findings, it’s not surprising women may have far less confidence than men when it comes to job hunting.

Don’t let this stop you from pursuing a job that you want. There’s still a long way to go to reach true equality, but there are things that you can do to secure a position you deserve regardless of bias and stereotyping.

How to overcome gender-based bias when job hunting

It’s frustrating and outrageous that your gender may play a role in a hiring decision. To prevent this from harming your job prospects, follow the tips below.

1. Don’t be afraid to try

Did you know that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, while women apply only if they meet all of them? What this demonstrates is, while men would still try to get a job when they’re aware they’re not a perfect candidate, women need to be sure they’re absolutely qualified before they send out their resume. This narrows down the scope of potential opportunities for women from the get-go.

This is understandable. As women, we’ve been socialized to follow rules from a young age. Many of us may see job qualifications as actual requirements. This belief in the importance of qualifications gets stronger as we’re hired and promoted based primarily on our performance, and men – on their potential.

The list of qualifications in a job ad is a guideline, not a rule. The hiring process gives you room to build relationships, advocate for yourself and demonstrate how you can be an asset to the company.

If you think you can do a job well, send out your application even if you’re not confident you meet all the criteria. If this doesn’t stop a man with the same amount of experience, why should it stop you?

2. Tweak your resume

Dice, a leading database for technology professionals, suggests making your resume “gender-neutral” to eliminate the risk of not being called for an interview due to your gender. For instance, use “Sam” instead of “Samantha” or simply write your initials. You can also remove gender-related references from your resume, such as professional female groups, to take this a step further.

Terry McDougall, career transition coach and author of “Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms,” shares an interesting observation.

“Because both men and women spell Terry with a “y”, during my corporate career I had numerous email interactions with colleagues and vendors who did not realize they were dealing with a woman because of the spelling of my name,” she says. “Yet, when we met in person, it would OFTEN happen (weirdly enough) that the man (always a man) would say, ‘I thought you were a man’… I always found it very interesting that they could not help themselves from saying that out loud, when it is very apparent I’m a woman. I always wondered how their impression of me being a man when we were corresponding may have colored their view of me.”

3. Ask important questions

Another approach is to proactively seek companies that position themselves as women-friendly. While you may find that many describe themselves that way, it’s best to dig in and find out what these employers do to support women.

For example, research if the company has any diversity initiatives, what the percentage of women in leadership positions is and what the culture is like overall.

It’s also a good idea to dig into reviews from current and former employees on sites like Indeed and Glassdoor. These anonymous comments might give more insight into what the company culture is really like than information the company itself published.

Another good question to ask may be how flexible and inclusive the benefits are, such as maternity leave. This information can help you not only weed out the companies where you can experience sexism during the hiring process but also find a job where you’ll be truly valued.

Negotiating as a woman

When you’ve landed a job offer, your work isn’t done yet. The next essential part of the process is negotiation.

You’ve probably heard about the gender pay gap: Women on average earn 77 to 79 cents for every $1 earned by a man. The numbers are lower for women of color than they are for white women. Black and African American women make 61 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women and Latinas make only 53 cents to every dollar.

See related: Closing the gender pay gap

These sobering statistics beg the question of what you can do to minimize this gap from the start. That’s where negotiating your pay and benefits becomes crucial.

1. Conquer imposter syndrome

Many of us are familiar with imposter syndrome. It’s the feeling you’re a fraud no matter how many accomplishments you’ve had or how much praise you’ve gotten for your work. It often stems from perfectionism and the pressure to meet the high standards we set for ourselves or expectations we think people have for us.

When you feel this way about yourself, negotiation might feel uncomfortable. The inner belief that you’re somehow not good enough can make you accept less instead of pushing for what you deserve.

Fight the imposter syndrome. Embrace your worth and own your achievements. Don’t discount yourself – base your requirements on the assessment of your assets and compensation research rather than self-doubt.

2. Gather data

Speaking of research, it’s another essential aspect of preparing for negotiation. To know what you can count on, you need to have data to base your salary and benefits expectations on.

Tina Callison, president and lead resume writer at Loud Resumes, suggests gathering data on what other companies in the same geographical area are paying for the role you are seeking with the same level of experience you have.

“Being able to show that you know what the role is worth puts you in a better bargaining position when it comes to salary negotiation,” she explains. “Be prepared to make a case for the salary and benefits package you are asking for during negotiations by showing that you have done your research in the local job market and backing up your value with those concrete examples of what you have done in previous positions.”

3. Find your balance

Negotiations can be especially challenging for women, as we don’t want to come across as too “aggressive” or “bossy.” Whether or not we have a right to advocate for ourselves, perceptions of our behavior can negatively color first impressions. Where a man might be seen as assertive and fighting for his worth, women are often written off as unrealistic and overly aggressive.

Yet, we need to act and sound confident and assertive in order to get what we want.

This may seem like a double-edged sword, so striking a balance is essential to getting positive results.

First, it helps to remember that negotiations aren’t personal. You don’t need to feel guilty about asking for more, so don’t apologize for doing that. Avoid making excuses for your requests, since this can weaken your position.

Next, practice your assertiveness. You can start small by being assertive in simple, low-stakes situations. Then, when the time comes to prepare for negotiation with a potential employer, rehearse what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. You can do it with a friend or by filming yourself and evaluating your behavior.

Finally, it’s always helpful to connect and get advice from successful professionals in your field.

“In an attempt to come across as either assertive or agreeable, it can be hard to strike the right balance when negotiating your salary and benefits as a woman,” says Nate Masterson, HR manager for Maple Holistics. “Do your research not only into the facts of your position, but also how experts in your field negotiate effectively. This will put you in the best position to ask with the right tone and balance.”

All of this may feel like a lot, but don’t let it stop you from negotiating. The worst thing that can happen is your potential employer won’t give you more than they’ve already offered.

“The hiring manager or HR representative may have to get back to them and it’s understandable that it might be a little nerve-wracking as they wait,” says McDougall. “However … I’ve never once seen the company renege on the offer, and nine times out of 10 the candidate gets at least some of what they asked for.”

Final thoughts

While gender discrimination in hiring is alive and well, women have to learn to overcome it. Traversing the hiring process can be tricky and downright difficult, but don’t settle for less than what you know you’re worth.

It’s not our fault we’re subjects to double standards in the career world – that wasn’t designed for women to be successful. It shouldn’t be our responsibility to eliminate those unequal standards.

Nevertheless, it’s up to us to remember what we deserve and demonstrate our worth to those willing to see it.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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