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Interventions That Affect Gender Bias in Hiring: A Systematic Review

Isaac, Carol PhD, PT; Lee, Barbara PhD; Carnes, Molly MD, MS

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181b6ba00
Gender Issues

Purpose To systematically review experimental evidence for interventions mitigating gender bias in employment. Unconscious endorsement of gender stereotypes can undermine academic medicine's commitment to gender equity.

Method The authors performed electronic and hand searches for randomized controlled studies since 1973 of interventions that affect gender differences in evaluation of job applicants. Twenty-seven studies met all inclusion criteria. Interventions fell into three categories: application information, applicant features, and rating conditions.

Results The studies identified gender bias as the difference in ratings or perceptions of men and women with identical qualifications. Studies reaffirmed negative bias against women being evaluated for positions traditionally or predominantly held by men (male sex-typed jobs). The assessments of male and female raters rarely differed. Interventions that provided raters with clear evidence of job-relevant competencies were effective. However, clearly competent women were rated lower than equivalent men for male sex-typed jobs unless evidence of communal qualities was also provided. A commitment to the value of credentials before review of applicants and women's presence at above 25% of the applicant pool eliminated bias against women. Two studies found unconscious resistance to “antibias” training, which could be overcome with distraction or an intervening task. Explicit employment equity policies and an attractive appearance benefited men more than women, whereas repeated employment gaps were more detrimental to men. Masculine-scented perfume favored the hiring of both sexes. Negative bias occurred against women who expressed anger or who were perceived as self-promoting.

Conclusions High-level evidence exists for strategies to mitigate gender bias in hiring.

Dr. Isaac is a postdoctoral fellow, Center for Women's Health Research, and lecturer, Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Lee is a consultant in statistics and evaluation, Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Dr. Carnes is director, Center for Women's Health Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison and Meriter Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin; professor, Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry, School of Medicine and Public Health; professor, Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, and codirector, Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin; and director, Women Veterans Health Program, William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Carnes, Center for Women's Health Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 700 Regent Street, Suite 301, Madison, WI 53715; telephone: (608) 263-9770; fax: (608) 265-6423; e-mail: (

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© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges