New research published in the journal American Psychologist confirms something many women may have sadly suspected for a long time: Women get passed over when employers want "brainy" workers, or need help with intellectually demanding tasks.
Persistent gender biases still cast men as intellectual superior to women, meaning women are less likely to be hired for or seen as capable of handling "smart" roles, like those commonly associated with fields like physics and engineering.
Female students earn higher grades and are more likely to attend a university and graduate than their male peers. But these academic achievements appear to do little to sway this prejudice, which, according to the study, is so deeply-held, it can be observed in adults, children as young as 5, and both sexes.
"The seemingly subtle differences in how people think about the intellectual abilities of women and men translate into macro-level inequities in their professional trajectories, with women being systematically underrepresented in some of the most prestigious jobs in American society," the study's authors, Lin Bian, Andrei Cimpian, and Sarah-Jane Leslie, wrote.
To uncover whether this bias existed and its effect, the researchers conducted an experiment on 1,158 people, asking them to read a job listing and then refer two people they knew for the position. Half were led to believe the job required high-level intellectual ability. The other half were told the job needed a motivated worker who would bring "consistent effort."
Women and men were about equally likely to be recommended for the job that emphasized motivation and effort, but women fared worse when it came to being named for the gig requiring a high IQ.
The odds a woman would be recommended for the open role dropped 38.3 percent when the job description mentioned intellect, the study found. And women were just as likely to inflict this bias on themselves as men were, with both sexes being less likely to suggest a female for a "smart" job.
The worst part? Even if people want to combat gender biases in their hiring decisions and actively promote and employ women, they will likely still fall victim to this thinking. Because companies put a lot of stock in candidate suggestions made by current or former employees, they may be choosing from a pool of applicants already tilted in favor of men, says Bian, an assistant professor of Human Development at Cornell University.