Be an Advocate for Others, Unless You Are a Man: Backlash Against Gender-Atypical Male Job Candidates

Men with atypical gender characteristics face backlash in the hiring process.

Introduction

People who do not conform to typical gender representations can face social and economic backlash. In the workplace, typical gender presentation for a woman could include advocating for her team in salary negotiations and career advancement; guiding her team to success; praising her team; and sharing attention and credit with her team. Women are typically stereotyped to be “other-advocating” caretakers, so employers look for qualities like being caring, community-oriented, and non-dominant in women. By contrast, typical gender presentation for a man could include focusing on his salary and career advancement; receiving individual credit and praise; and being self-promoting. Men are typically stereotyped to be “self-advocating” leaders, so employers look for qualities like competency, achievement orientation, and strength in men.

Previous research has shown that gender stereotypes can lead to discrimination in hiring practices. Female job candidates who do not represent stereotypical qualities are discriminated against in hiring, but there is very little evidence that explores the impact on male job candidates who do not represent the qualities stereotypically assigned to their gender. In particular, do men who present gender-atypically face backlash in hiring?

In this study, professionals employed in the human resources departments of different companies volunteered to participate in an online survey. Each participant reviewed either a male or female job candidate with the same qualifications and four selected descriptions from an annual performance review. The performance review statements exemplified either self-advocating or other-advocating qualities. Participants then rated the candidates on four categories regarding the hireability of the male and female candidates who were depicted as more self-advocating or other-advocating.

Findings

Men with other-advocating characteristics, which are considered atypical for men, faced more backlash than both self-advocating men and women and other-advocating women. Surprisingly, women with self-advocating characteristics, considered atypical for women, received little backlash. The findings are reported as mean responses on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

  • Other-advocating candidates were the most likable, but there were significant differences in backlash for women and men, as well as significant differences compared to self-advocating candidates.
    • Other-advocating men were more liked than both self-advocating men and women (mean of 4.55 compared to 4.22 and 4.47, respectively); however, they were more penalized with job dismissal (2.51) and viewed as having the least agency (5.83) and competence (5.25) among all groups.
    • Other-advocating women were the most likable of all the groups (5.31).
    • Other-advocating women were less penalized (2.00), and viewed as having more agency (6.25) and similar competency (5.56) to other-advocating men (2.51, 5.83, and 5.25, respectively).
    • Other-advocating women were more likable (5.31) and slightly less penalized (2.00) than self-advocating women (4.47 and 2.38), but were comparable in terms of agency (6.25 vs. 6.18) and competency (5.56 vs. 5.43).
  • Self-advocating men and women were judged similarly in all aspects, but had significant differences compared to other-advocating candidates.
    • Self-advocating men were much less penalized (2.12) and were seen as having more agency (6.40) and competence (5.50) than other-advocating men (2.51, 5.83, 5.25, respectively).
    • Self-advocating men were less liked (4.22), but also less penalized (2.12) and seen as having slightly more agency (6.40) and competency (5.50) than self-advocating women (4.47, 2.38, 6.18, 5.43, respectively).
    • Self-advocating women were not significantly less liked than self-advocating men (4.47 to 4.22), but were less liked than other-advocating women (4.47 to 5.31).
    • Self-advocating women were comparably penalized (2.38) and were seen as having similar agency (6.18) and competence (5.43) compared to other-advocating women (2.00, 6.25, 5.56, respectively).

These findings demonstrate that when men exhibit other-advocating characteristics, they face backlash and discrimination in employment opportunities, which runs contrary to contemporary leadership theory that suggests leaders should serve as mentors and advocates in the workplace. It is vital that human resources professionals attend to bias and curb backlash against both atypical men and women in hiring practices.

Methodology

To find participants, the research team sent invitations to professionals in human resources at a large, international company. The invitation was also forwarded to several human resources professional networks on LinkedIn. Ultimately, 149 study participants voluntarily took a one-time, anonymous survey through SurveyMonkey. Participants first read a job description that included desired characteristics for an internal job candidate to a managerial role. They were then presented with either a male or female candidate with the same qualifications. Subsequently, they read five quotes from the candidates’ annual performance reviews that described either self-advocating or other-advocating qualities. Finally, survey participants responded to a series of statements designed to rate the candidates across four categories: likability, penalties (such as job dismissal), agency, and competence. Participants rated the statements on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Intersectionality

Related GAP Studies