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Published: Monday, 1/10/2005

Study suggests mothers face bias when looking for a job

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE SCIENCE WRITER

Dads may have an advantage in the job market, but being a mom could work against you.

That's what a study from an Ohio State University researcher suggests. Kathleen Fuegen, from OSU's Lima campus, found that mothers may have to meet higher standards before they are hired, while fathers may be held to lower standards than childless men and women.

"There's not the kind of overt stereotyping that there was 30 or 50 years ago where people said a woman wasn't qualified,'' said Ms. Fuegen, the study's lead author and an assistant psychology professor. "But gender stereotypes are being manifested in ways not yet explored."

In this research, published in the current edition of the Journal of Social Issues, 200 people received a fictitious resume for review. The resumes were identical, except some were from Kenneth Anderson and some were from Katherine. In addition, on some resumes, Katherine or Kenneth had children, on others they didn't.

The reviewers were asked a series of questions about the resume authors: What sort of score on standardized ability tests should this applicant receive if he or she is to be hired? What kind of letters of recommendation should she have? What hours would she have to be available to work? How many sick days per month would she be allowed? Finally, they were asked if the person should be hired, and if the person might be promotable.

"Mothers and fathers were perceived to be less committed than nonparents,'' Ms. Fuegen said.

"But things were especially difficult for mother. They expected her to be better. She also was less likely to be considered a good candidate for promotion.''

While mothers had to jump higher and run faster to get the job, the bar was apparently lowered for fathers.

"We were surprised to find that the father was held to the lowest standards,'' Ms. Fuegen said.

While the study lacks real-world seasoning - the resume reviewers were college students, and job candidates seldom mention parental status on resumes - Michael Abraham, the branch manager for Snelling Personnel Services in Sylvania, said a few employers do have such biases.

"There is a preconceived notion that if a woman does have a family, it could take up more responsibility and more time. They may not be as willing to work overtime - that's the perception, not the reality.

"The opposite, the dad bias, people see fathers as the breadwinners,'' Mr. Abraham said.

Some people believe fathers "will work more hours and work harder to support their family, compared to a childless man who doesn't have the responsibilities."

Deborah James, who operates Leading Edge Resumes and Career Services in Toledo, said employers shouldn't be biased about parental status because "it's none of their business.'' It's even illegal to ask if a job candidate has kids.

But she doesn't deny that some companies have a bias: "They look at a woman with children at home, and they think, are these kids going to be sick? Is she going to be off?"

"There are companies like that. But companies are now more friendly to two-income families with women working, more friendly than what they used to be.''

Contact Jenni Laidman at: jenni@theblade.com or 419-724-6507.



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