Male surname gender bias hampers women in the workplace

by Emily Douglas16 Jul 2018

Nicknames are a part of our lives from an early age – though how many women do you know that go solely by their surname?

More typically, in fact, variations of surnames are used in male groups as a sort of bonding ritual – one which could exclude women, going so far as to hinder their career opportunities.

Recent research from psychologists at Cornell University found that professional males who are referred to by their surnames are thought to be ‘more famous’ in the workplace and thus more important than their female counterparts.

“Men and women were, on average across studies, more than twice as likely to describe a male (vs. female) professional by surname in domains, such as science, literature, and politics,” the study explained.

“We find that this simple difference in reference affects judgments of eminence, with participants judging those professionals described by surname as more eminent and 14% more deserving of a career award.”

After analysing 4,500 comments on the Rate My Professor website, the researchers found that students were 56% more likely to refer to their male teachers using surname only. The other studies looked at the way male and female employees referred to each other, and were referred to in return, across a myriad of sectors – highlighting a clear and evident gender bias.

“This gender bias may contribute to the gender gap in perceived eminence as well as in actual recognition and may partially explain the persistent state of women’s underrepresentation in high-status fields, including science, technology, engineering, and math,” the report concluded.


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