Stacking the deck against mothers


Two Cornell University sociologists, Shelley Correll and Stephen Benard, presented some fascinating research at a recent conference suggesting that mothers suffer endemic discrimination when competing for jobs against similarly qualified fathers and childless men and women.

They created resumes and human-resource department memos for candidates for an executive-level marketing job in a communications startup. The resumes contained effectively identical qualifications. Correll and Benard then added features to distinguish the candidates. On some resumes, they indicated that the candidate served in a parent-teacher association. On others, they said he (or she) served in a neighborhood association. The HR memos also included notations on whether a candidate was a parent or married. Correll and Benard used names to flag candidates' gender. Some were given typically male names while others received typically female ones.

....On every measure but one, mothers scored lower than everyone else. (On the number of late arrivals allowed, they tied with men without kids.) Mothers were ranked as less competent and committed and least likely to be promoted. And they were offered lower starting salaries.

Interestingly, the students ranked women without children as the most qualified on several measures, giving them the highest scores for commitment, competence and likelihood of promotion. Even so, childless women weren't offered the highest starting salaries.

A similar trend emerged with smokers, who were perceived as investing less and therefore learning less than nonsmokers.

Human Resources at Wharton | Two New Studies Look at Mothers -- and Smokers -- in the Workplace