A new study has found that partners in Wall Street law firms write equally nice things about the work of their male and female junior lawyers, but when it comes to using hard numbers, they rate the men higher bases on stereotypes.
Researchers from Hastings College of the Law of the University of California, have said that use of positive language may be to soften the blow of low evaluations or they may be based on lower expectations of female performance.
The researchers looked at the performance evaluations of junior attorneys working in a Wall Street law firm.
The mostly male senior lawyers rated more than 230 junior attorneys—35% women—using both number ratings and writing about one single-spaced page of text.
By the numbers, men significantly outscored the women and the authors estimated that about 14 percent of men and 5 percent of women were on track for promotion by this standard.
The written evaluations told an entirely different story as independent experts, who did not know the gender of the person being written about, rated the competence communicated in writing; men and women equally received generally positive evaluations.
When they counted the number of “positive performance words” such as “excellent,” “awesome,” or “stellar,’ women received significantly more of this positive feedback.
The men with more positive words had higher numbers, but for women receiving positive words was completely uncorrelated with their numerical ratings.
“Although the difference in numerical ratings may not seem large, stereotypes led to pro-male bias when it mattered. The firm’s reliance numbers for partnership consideration made it three times more likely that men will be promoted to partner,” the authors said.
The study has been published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.