Gender Bias in Leader Selection? Evidence from a Hiring Simulation Study


The present research investigated factors that might affect gender discrimination in a hiring simulation context from the perspectives of social role theory and the shifting standards model. Specifically, the experimental study investigated whether gender biases are evident in the screening and hiring stage of the personnel selection process depending on the applicants’ social role and evaluators’ gender. A sample of German undergraduate business students (54 women, 53 men) was asked to make a personnel selection decision (short-listing or hiring) about a fictitious applicant (man or woman) in a specific role (leader or non-leader) for a managerial position. Consistent with social role theory’s assumption that social role information is more influential than gender information, participants selected applicants described as leaders over applicants described as non-leaders, regardless of applicant gender. In addition, in the presence of role information, female applicants portrayed as leaders were similarly short-listed and hired as male applicants with the same credentials. In the absence of role information, female applicants were similarly short-listed as male applicants; however, male applicants were hired over female applicants, albeit by male participants only. This is consistent with the shifting standards model’s assumption that group members are held to a higher standard to confirm traits on which they are perceived to be deficient: Male participants hired female applicants portrayed as non-leaders with less certainty than their male counterparts possibly due to higher confirmatory standards for leadership ability in women than men. The research and practice implications of these results are discussed.

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We would like to thank Anika Hapke for her help in conducting this study.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Janine Bosak.


Appendix I. Scenarios Used to Manipulate the Leadership Role Information

Scenario: Leader Scenario: Non-Leader
Original German Wording
Nach meinem Wechsel 2003 zu… übernahm ich in der Abteilung “Personalmanagement und Prozessberatung“die Leitung einer sechsköpfigen Projektgruppe. Mein Aufgabenbereich umfasste neben der Koordination verschiedener Projekte auch die Verantwortung für Personalentscheidungen. Darüber hinaus hatte ich die Entscheidungsbefugnis über die Budgetierung für prozessbegleitende Maßnahmen inne und verantwortete deren Umsetzung und Evaluation. Durch diese Führungserfahrung bin ich für eine Führungsposition qualifiziert. Nach meinem Wechsel 2003 zu… arbeitete ich in der Abteilung “Personalmanagement und Prozessberatung“in einer sechsköpfigen Projektgruppe mit. Mein Aufgabenbereich umfasste neben der Mitarbeit bei verschiedenen Projekten auch die Bearbeitung von Personalentscheidungen. Darüber hinaus bearbeitete ich die Budgetierung für prozessbegleitende Maßnahmen und wirkte bei deren Umsetzung und Evaluation mit. Durch diese praktische Erfahrung bin ich für eine Führungsposition qualifiziert.

Appendix II. Dependent Variable—Certainty to Short-List and Hire

Original German Wording—Short-List Condition:

Bitte geben Sie an, inwieweit die Person für die Führungsposition in die Vorwahl einbezogen werden soll.

Skalenrange von −5 (Ich würde die Person sehr sicher nicht in die Vorwahl nehmen) bis + 5 (Ich würde die Person sehr sicher in die Vorwahl nehmen).

English Translation—Short Listing Condition:

Please make a decision if the applicant should be short-listed for the leadership position.

Scale ranged from −5 (I am very certain not to short-list the applicant) to +5 (I am very certain to short-list the applicant).

Original German Wording—Hiring Condition:

Bitte geben Sie an, inwieweit die Person für die Führungsposition eingestellt werden soll.

Skalenrange von −5 (Ich würde die Person sehr sicher nicht einstellen) bis +5 (Ich würde die Person sehr sicher einstellen)

English Translation—Short Listing Condition:

Please make a decision if the applicant should be hired for the leadership position.

Scale ranged from −5 (I am very certain not to hire the applicant) to +5 (I am very certain to hire the applicant).

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Bosak, J., Sczesny, S. Gender Bias in Leader Selection? Evidence from a Hiring Simulation Study. Sex Roles 65, 234–242 (2011).

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  • Gender stereotypes
  • Leadership
  • Social roles
  • Sex differences
  • Personnel selection