This study is based on the first author's master's thesis, which was conducted at Michigan State University. The authors thank committee members Dan Ilgen and Rick DeShon. Supplemental data were collected at Bowling Green State University. The authors thank Mike Daniels for his assistance with the analyses. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2002 annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Denver, CO. Finally, the authors thank Dave Hofmann, Rebecca Henry, and Maggie Brooks for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.
Gender-Based Preferential Selection: Influences of Perceptions of Procedurally Unfair Advantage on Performance and Self-Evaluations†
Article first published online: 15 OCT 2012
© 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc
Journal of Applied Social Psychology
Special Issue: THEME: Organisational Psychology
Volume 42, Issue Supplement S1, pages E150–E179, December 2012
How to Cite
Gillespie, J. Z. and Ryan, A. M. (2012), Gender-Based Preferential Selection: Influences of Perceptions of Procedurally Unfair Advantage on Performance and Self-Evaluations. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42: E150–E179. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2012.01016.x
- Issue published online: 26 DEC 2012
- Article first published online: 15 OCT 2012
Gender-based preferential selection is believed to affect self-perceptions of beneficiaries, but the mechanisms by which this occurs have not been fully investigated. An online experiment was conducted with male and female undergraduates (n = 509) in the midwestern United States in which method of selection and gender type of job were manipulated. Hypotheses regarding associations between independent variables, self-efficacy, perceptions of procedural fairness, performance, and self-evaluations were tested. Gender- vs. merit-based selection negatively affected procedural fairness; while procedural fairness perceptions related positively to post-hire self-evaluations, in part through performance. Job gender type interacted with applicant gender to affect pre-hire self-efficacy, but self-efficacy did not moderate the relationship between procedural fairness perceptions and post-hire performance. Implications for affirmative-action programs are discussed.
Across many different disciplines, there is the idea that groups, organizations, and societies have social systems that regulate the allocation of rewards and resources (e.g., Parsons, 1951). In psychology, procedural fairness refers to the perceived fairness of procedural components of social systems (Leventhal, 1980; also see Ambrose & Arnaud, 2005; Colquitt, Greenberg, & Zapata-Phelan, 2005). Procedural fairness is a function of the extent to which a number of rules are satisfied or violated, including the consistency with which a given reward-allocation process is applied across persons and over time. In the across-persons form, the consistency rule is closely related to the notion of equality of opportunity (Colquitt et al., 2005; Leventhal, 1980). That is, the consistency rule is satisfied when similar procedures are applied across all potential recipients of a desirable outcome, with special advantage given to none.
Procedural fairness is relevant to personnel selection in that job applicants readily form perceptions of the fairness of the procedure by which selection decisions are made. This point is supported by Gilliland's (1993) model of fairness reactions to selection processes, which is rooted in both psychological theory on organizational justice (e.g., Greenberg, 1990) and in prior research on applicant reactions to selection procedures (e.g., Robertson & Smith, 1989). Gilliland argues that the fairness reactions of job applicants are worthy of research attention because such reactions may influence the ability of organizations to recruit and hire qualified people, which, in turn, may affect the utility of personnel-selection efforts. Additionally, and most important to the present study, Gilliland characterizes procedural fairness in particular as a key area of research because of its potential to affect the psychological well-being of job applicants, including the favorability of self-perceptions (i.e., self-esteem, self-efficacy).
A specific examination of procedural fairness perceptions in selection contexts occurs in research on preferential selection, or preferential treatment (Kravitz et al., 1997), which occurs when one is hired in part on a factor other than merit, such as demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race) or personal connections (e.g., “who you know”). Gilliland (1993) suggested that preferential selection may be considered a procedurally unfair advantage with negative consequences for the psychological well-being of job applicants. However, the specific links by which this occurs have received relatively little empirical attention. That is, although there is much research to demonstrate that nonbeneficiaries may perceive preferential selection as unfair (e.g., Heilman, McCullough, & Gilbert, 1996), more research is needed to examine the extent to which beneficiaries of preferential selection may also perceive it as unfair in that it is a positive violation of the consistency rule (Ployhart & Ryan, 1998). Accordingly, in the present study, we test the idea that people who believe they were hired via preferential (vs. merit-based) selection may perceive this to be a procedurally unfair advantage, and thus may be more vulnerable to unfavorable self-evaluations of post-hire performance.
Substantial research has focused specifically on how considerations of gender are viewed in hiring and on the effects for self-perceptions, including post-hire self-evaluations of performance. However, there remain at least two gaps in the literature that the present study aims to address. First, the literatures on procedural fairness and preferential selection are not well integrated, despite the intuitively appealing connections that exist between them. Second, and more importantly, although much theory and research has suggested that preferentially selected females may suffer in terms of post-hire self-perceptions and that this effect may be exacerbated when the job is relatively masculine in gender type (e.g., Heilman, 1983, 1994; Heilman, Battle, Keller, & Lee, 1998), the mechanisms by which this may occur are unclear, and thus are worthy of further investigation. To this end, we contend that it would be helpful to more closely integrate these findings on the effects of gender-based preferential selection with the aforementioned literature on fairness reactions to selection procedures (e.g., Gilliland, 1993), as the latter offers a relative wealth of research regarding the psychological processes that may underlie such effects. The two major purposes of the present study are to elucidate the conditions under which job applicants might view gender as an advantaging component of a hiring process as procedurally unfair, and to better understand the effects of that perceived unfairness on post-hire self-perceptions.
In achieving these major purposes, the present investigation aims to make several unique contributions to the existing literature. First, we include in our study a measure of pre-hire self-perceptions (i.e., self-efficacy). This is noteworthy because previous researchers have emphasized the importance of accounting for pre-hire self-perceptions in determining the fairness of procedures (e.g., Bauer, Maertz, Dolen, & Campion, 1998; Heilman, Lucas, & Kaplow, 1990; Ryan & Ployhart, 2000), as opposed to simply assuming that post-hire self-perceptions are solely a product of the fairness of the process. Further, in the present study, we examine the extent to which pre-hire self-perceptions are affected by lack of job gender-type fit (Heilman, 1983). That is, on the basis of existing theory, we argue that to the extent that females have unfavorable self-perceptions regarding jobs that are masculine in gender type, they may be more vulnerable to any ambiguity about competence that is associated with gender-based preferential selection (e.g., Heilman, Block, & Lucas, 1992; Heilman, Block, & Stathatos, 1997; Heilman et al., 1990). Finally, previous reviews of the literature (Colquitt, Conlon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng, 2001; Hausknecht, Day, & Thomas, 2004; Truxillo, Steiner, & Gilliland, 2004) have pointed out that studies rarely examine the association between procedural fairness and work performance (for a summary of those that do, see Conlon, Meyer, & Nowakowski, 2005). Thus in the present study, we focus uniquely on how gender-based preferential selection might affect self-perceptions via post-hire performance.
We conducted an online experiment with a sample of undergraduates in the midwestern United States. Male and female participants were selected, either preferentially or on the basis of merit, for a job that was described in either masculine or feminine terms. As part of the study, participants completed a variety of measures that permitted tests of hypotheses about the associations between independent variables, pre-hire self-efficacy, perceived procedural fairness, post-hire performance, and post-hire self-evaluations of performance.
Since its introduction to the field by Thibaut, Walker, and associates (Friedland, Thibaut, & Walker, 1973; Thibaut & Walker, 1975; Walker, LaTour, Lind, & Thibaut, 1974), procedural fairness has been found to relate to a multitude of organizational outcomes (see Colquitt et al., 2001, 2005), including job acceptance intentions (Ployhart & Ryan, 1998), perceptions of the organization (Kluger & Rothstein, 1993; Ployhart, Ryan, & Bennett, 1999; Saks, Leck, & Saunders, 1995), and post-hire self-perceptions (Bauer et al., 1998; Gilliland, 1994; Koper, Van Knippenberg, Bouhuijs, Vermunt, & Wilke, 1993; Ployhart & Ryan, 1997; Schroth & Shah, 2000). Findings such as these provide support for the idea that procedural fairness is desirable in personnel selection (e.g., Gilliland, 1993; Gilliland & Hale, 2005; Ryan & Ployhart, 2000; Truxillo et al., 2004).
Gilliland's (1993) model suggests that procedural fairness among job applicants may be influenced by a variety of situational conditions, including test type, human resource policy, and the behavior of human resource personnel. In the present study, our focus is on method of selection. In particular, we argue that gender-based preferential selection may be viewed by beneficiaries as a procedurally unfair advantage in that it is a (positive) violation of the consistency rule (Gilliland, 1993; Ployhart & Ryan, 1998). Indeed, the results of many experimental studies suggest that participants who are preferentially selected on the basis of gender perceive this method of selection to be significantly less fair, in comparison to those selected on the basis of merit (e.g., Heilman et al., 1998; Heilman, Rivero, & Brett, 1991; Heilman, Simon, & Repper, 1987; Turner & Pratkanis, 1994; Turner, Pratkanis, & Hardaway, 1991). There are studies on beneficiaries' reactions to race-based affirmative-action programs that include some form of preferential treatment, and measure fairness as a dependent variable (e.g., Cropanzano, Slaughter, & Bachiochi, 2005; Slaughter, Bulger, & Bachiochi, 2005; Slaughter, Sinar, & Bachiochi, 2002; Stanush, Arthur, & Doverspike, 1998). These studies also suggest that beneficiaries (or potential beneficiaries) of race-based preferential treatment perceive it to be less fair as compared to other, less strong forms of affirmative action.
In a typical experimental study of preferential selection, method of selection is manipulated in a laboratory setting such that participants are told that they have been selected for a managerial or leadership role over an opposite-gender confederate, either via a merit-or gender-based selection procedure. Sometimes included in these studies is a one-item measure of perceived fairness. In two studies by Heilman et al. (1991), for example, the authors asked study participants to rate on a 9-point scale the fairness of the managerial selection process, and the authors found a main effect such that preferentially selected participants reported the process as less fair than did those selected on the basis of merit. This finding is compatible with the theoretical model by Gilliland (1993) to the extent that preferential selection is viewed as a violation of the consistency rule and thus should result in lower perceptions of procedural fairness. The results of studies such as those by Heilman et al., studies of race-based preference, along with the model by Gilliland, suggest that method of selection may be expected to affect perceptions of fairness, such that preferential selection will result in less procedural fairness than will merit-based selection.
- Hypothesis 1. Method of selection will affect procedural fairness such that gender- versus merit-based selection will result in lower procedural fairness.
Gilliland's (1993) model suggests that procedural fairness may affect indicators of psychological well-being (e.g., self-perceptions). In particular, for those who are hired, procedural fairness is expected to relate positively to post-hire self-evaluations of performance. Drawing from Weiner (1985), Gilliland offers theoretical rationale for the link between procedural fairness and self-perceptions: He suggests that the effect occurs vis-à-vis attributions regarding the reason for hire (also see Brockner et al., 2003; Ployhart & Ryan, 1997). Namely, when the procedural fairness of a selection decision can be questioned, external attributions are more likely; thus, a favorable selection outcome may have relatively little impact on applicants' self-perceptions. Conversely stated, when the procedure by which a selection decision is made is perceived as fair, internal attributions are more likely; thus, a favorable selection outcome may have a positive impact on self-perceptions.
Indeed, research in personnel selection suggests that those who are hired through a process that is high (vs. low) in procedural fairness tend to report self-perceptions that are relatively more favorable (e.g., Bauer et al., 1998; Gilliland, 1994; Ployhart & Ryan, 1997). Similarly, the aforementioned laboratory research by Heilman et al. (1991, Study 2) indicates that preferential (vs. merit-based) selection may have a negative effect on beneficiaries' self-perceptions, especially to the extent that merit information is ambiguous and thus contributing to a negative self-view of competence. To operationally define self-perceptions, Heilman et al. constructed a measure of perceived ability that was based in part on participants' responses to the question of how well they believed they had performed on the experimental task (i.e., above average or below average). Thus, even though Heilman et al. did not specifically test the link between fairness and self-evaluations of performance, the results of their study—along with the theoretical model proposed by Gilliland—suggest that one exists. Accordingly, in the present study, we suggest that there will be a positive relationship between perceptions of procedural fairness and post-hire self-evaluations of performance.
- Hypothesis 2. Procedural fairness will relate positively to post-hire self-evaluations of performance.
We further suggest that task performance will partially mediate the relationship between procedural fairness and post-hire self-evaluations of performance. Returning to the theoretical proposition by Gilliland (1993) that external attributions are more likely when the procedural fairness of a selection decision can be questioned, it stands to reason that any ambiguity about reason for hire may make it relatively difficult for newly selected applicants to predict future outcomes and to select tasks of appropriate difficulty (e.g., Crocker, Voelkl, Testa, & Major, 1991). Indeed, Weiner (1985) suggested that success based on changing (vs. stable) causal conditions may produce decrements (vs. increments) in self-efficacy, as the present outcome may not be expected to repeat itself in the future, but instead is based on relative chance.
Focusing specifically on preferential (vs. merit-based) selection, beneficiaries have not received much verification of internal capability. Instead, their competence is left open to question (Heilman, 1994; Heilman et al., 1990, 1997). As indicated by Major, Feinstein, and Crocker (1994), preferential selection procedures establish a causal link between group membership and outcomes, but leave unclear whether the favorable outcome would have or could have been obtained based on individual merit. In contrast, selection procedures based on merit “are more likely to result in the belief that outcomes are deserved” (Major et al., 1994, p. 116). We contend that those who believe they have been preferentially selected may not only view themselves as hired through a procedurally unfair advantage (Hypothesis 1), but also that this may, in turn, prompt uncertainty and thus the investment of less effort, thereby leading to lower post-hire task performance and ultimately to less favorable self-evaluations of performance. Indeed, although studies of the link between procedural fairness and performance have sometimes produced mixed results, a meta-analysis suggests a positive relationship between these variables (Colquitt et al., 2001). We expect the link between perceptions of procedural fairness and post-hire self-evaluations of performance (Hypothesis 2) to be partially mediated by performance.
- Hypothesis 3. The relationship between procedural fairness and post-hire self-evaluations of performance will be partially mediated by performance.
Because the focus of our research is gender-based preferential selection, as opposed to other types of procedurally unfair advantages (e.g., “who you know”), it is important to consider as a potential moderating factor whether the applicant is female or male. In experimental studies of gender-based preferential selection, Heilman et al. (1987, 1990, 1991) found that only female participants reported having less favorable self-evaluations of performance in the preferential (vs. merit-based) condition; whereas for male participants, no such effect was found. According to Heilman's (1983) lack-of-fit model, females may have lower pre-hire self-perceptions about their ability to perform jobs that are relatively masculine in gender type (also see Dipboye, 1985; Eagly & Karau, 2002; Heilman & Eagly, 2008; Major et al., 1994). In other words, because managerial and leadership roles are considered masculine in gender type (Bosak & Sczesny, 2008; Heilman et al., 1987, 1990; Powell, Butterfield, & Parent, 2002; Schein, 2001), females may be less likely than males to approach such roles with confidence (Heilman, 1983).
Importantly, Heilman's (1983) lack-of-fit model does not suggest that females are always less likely than males to approach roles with confidence. Instead, Heilman contends that it is the meshing of feminine attributes with the masculine job type, as opposed to being female per se, that is associated with negative consequences (i.e., self-limiting behavior). In other words, it is the lack of fit, or the interaction between applicant gender (male, female) and job gender type (masculine, feminine) that drives any effects. However, with our focus on personnel selection and achievement tasks, we took into consideration the vast amount of research to suggest that females tend to display lower self-confidence to perform such tasks, as compared to males (e.g., Lenney, 1977). With regard to achievement-oriented traits, men are stereotyped as competent and strong, whereas women are thought to be incompetent and weak (Heilman, 1983; Welle & Heilman, 2007). In the prototypical achievement situation, with regard to initial or pre-hire self-efficacy (i.e., belief in one's ability to perform a given task; Bandura, 1986), we expect males to be relatively invulnerable to lack of fit. More specifically, we expect the gender of participants (male vs. female) to relate differentially to pre-hire self-efficacy depending on the gender type of the job (masculine vs. feminine). That is, we expect females to have lower pre-hire self-efficacy than males for the masculine (but not the feminine) job.
- Hypothesis 4. Gender type of job (masculine, feminine) will moderate the relationship between gender of applicant and pre-hire self-efficacy such that females will have lower self-efficacy than males for the masculine (but not for the feminine) job.
- Hypothesis 5. Pre-hire self-efficacy will moderate the relationship between procedural fairness and performance such that the relationship will be weaker for those with greater self-efficacy.
Rationale for the moderating effect of pre-hire self-efficacy on the relationship between procedural fairness and performance may be drawn from a few different sources. Recall that external (vs. internal) attributions are more likely when the reasons for success can be questioned (Gilliland, 1993; Weiner, 1985), making it less likely that the success will result in increased expectancies and aspirations for the future. However, if pre-hire self-efficacy is relatively high from the onset, then it stands to reason that the applicants may be less dependent on the verification of competence that stems from being selected through a fair process. Moreover, although the current investigation is the first to empirically test the interactive effect of procedural fairness and initial self-efficacy on post-hire performance, there are previous studies from the literature on preferential selection that use similar logic. For example, Heilman et al. (1990) found the ability information supplied to participants at the onset of an experiment to greatly affect their reactions to subsequent preferential (vs. merit-based) selection (also see Hattrup, 1998; Turner et al., 1991; cf. Brutus & Ryan, 1998). Based on these results, Heilman et al. reasoned that for people who question their ability, “the lack of competence affirmation inherent in preferential selection is deadly, leading to diminished views of one's work and one's ability, as well as a decrement in the motivation to persist in that role” (pp. 214–215). Conversely stated, people without questions about their abilities may be relatively invulnerable to such detrimental effects. Similarly, we argue that relatively high pre-level self-efficacy may serve to buffer against the formation of external (vs. internal) attributions when hired through a procedurally unfair advantage, thereby resulting in more typical upward shifts in expectancies, aspirations, and performance.
In summary, we have advanced five hypotheses that pertain to gender-based preferential selection and its effect on the self-perceptions of those who perceive themselves as beneficiaries, including the mechanisms by which this effect may occur. Drawing from relevant research (e.g., Gilliland, 1993; Heilman, 1983, 1994), we suggest that method of selection affects procedural fairness (Hypothesis 1) and that procedural fairness is associated with post-hire self-evaluations of performance (Hypothesis 2), in part through its relation to task performance (Hypothesis 3). Moreover, with regard to the relationship between applicant gender and pre-hire self-efficacy, we expect gender type of job to moderate the relationship such that females will have lower self-efficacy than will males for the masculine job, but not for the feminine job (Hypothesis 4). Finally, we expect pre-hire self-efficacy to moderate the relationship between procedural fairness and post-hire performance such that the relationship will be weaker for those with greater self-efficacy (Hypothesis 5).
Participants and Design
Study participants were 509 undergraduate students (153 males, 356 females). The participants were recruited primarily from introductory psychology classes, but also from introductory management classes. Participation was voluntary, and all participants received course credit. Participants' ages ranged from 18 to 56 years (Mdn = 20 years). The majority (84.7%) of participants were Caucasian. Hypotheses were tested using a 2 (Participant Gender) × 2 (Gender Type of Job: masculine vs. feminine) × 3 (Method of Selection: gender-based, preferential, or merit-based) factorial design. Consistent with the gender composition of the majors, there was a greater likelihood of being female in psychology (vs. management) classes (ΩE = 2.80).
This online experiment was described as one in which participants would either be selected to perform a scheduling task or, if not selected, would complete a lengthy (500-item) questionnaire for experimental credit. This contrasting of the scheduling task with the length of the questionnaire was to make more appealing the idea of being selected for the job. When participants completed the consent form, they were asked some basic demographic questions, including whether they are male or female. Based on this information, participants were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions, which varied by gender type of task and method of selection.
After the task was described to participants (gender-type manipulation is described later), they were shown a sample work task from the job, and then were asked to complete a measure of pre-hire self-efficacy. Study participants were given a selection test and were told that it would be used to determine whether or not they would be selected to perform the task. All participants were told that they had been selected to perform the job, and they were told the basis on which the selection decision was reached (method of selection is described later). Finally, study participants were given 20 min to complete the scheduling task, and they were asked to complete a survey.
Job gender type
Because we were measuring performance, it was necessary that all participants completed the same task, but that the task was described as a job that was either more masculine or feminine in gender type. We used a scheduling task and framed it as either a senior executive or a secretarial position (see Appendix). A pilot study of the gender type of the executive and secretarial tasks was conducted with 24 females. Those reading the description of the executive position perceived the job as more masculine, t(22) = 2.85, p < .01; felt that men more frequently hold this position, t(22) = 6.67, p < .001; were more likely to report that others would see it as a “man's job,” t(22) = 8.13, p < .001; and were more likely to report that others believed that men were more qualified to perform the job, t(22) = 5.30, p < .001, than those who read the description of the secretarial position. Based on the results of the pilot study, the senior executive position will be referred to as being masculine in gender type.
Participants in the pilot study did not directly report seeing the secretarial position as more feminine than did those in the executive position, t(22) = −1.50, p > .05). However, they were more likely to report that women more frequently hold the job, t(22) = 6.66, p < .001; that others would see it as “woman's job,” t(22) = 6.08, p < .001; and that others would believe that women are more qualified to perform the job, t(22) = −2.99, p < .05. Thus, based on the results of the pilot study, the secretarial position will be referred to as being feminine in gender type.
Method of selection
All of the participants were selected, but some participants were told that they were selected on the basis of merit, whereas others were told that they were preferentially selected on the basis of their gender. This manipulation is virtually identical to that used by Heilman et al. (1998). All participants were told the following:
Typically, in situations like this [senior executives, secretaries] are selected on the basis of both skill and ability, which basically means that they are good at the task. In our study, we also have attempted to select individuals who have demonstrated that they have the skill and ability to perform well as executives [secretaries], as measured by the pre-test you took online.
In the merit-based selection condition, participants were then told, “Therefore, you have been selected to perform the senior executive [secretary] job.” In the preferential selection condition, participants were instead told,
But because there have not been enough male [female] participants signing up for this study so far, we now have adopted a policy of giving the senior executive [secretary] job sample task to men [women]. Therefore, you have been selected to perform the senior executive [secretary] job.
Pre-hire selection test
The test that we administered ostensibly to make the selection decision was the verbal reasoning subsection of the Air Force Qualifying Test (Brandt & Burke, 1950). The measure consists of 25 items (α = .73).
Participants were shown a sample problem from the scheduling task they would be asked to perform on the job, and were asked to report how confident they were to perform it. The measure of pre-hire self-efficacy is a modification of one by Wood and Locke (1987; see Maurer & Pierce, 1998). The version used in the present study has 16 items (e.g., “I am able to complete 1 schedule,” “I am able to complete 2 schedules,” and so forth) that are rated on a 5-point Likert-type response format ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Mean composites were created, and this measure was found to be internally consistent (α = .95).
Participants completed a scheduling task that was developed by Earley and Kanfer (1985) for goal-setting research. The task consists of producing unique, mock schedules. Each schedule consisted of five employees whose schedules are non-redundant and non-conflicting. The participants were provided a list of eight employees, each having at least 10 different possible times and a list of rules with which each schedule must comply (e.g., “Each schedule must have 5 different employees scheduled on the same day”). Each participant was given a sum score based on the number of correct schedules that were produced.
Post-hire self-evaluation of performance
We developed a measure (based on Brutus & Ryan, 1998) that asks participants to assess their own performance on the task on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The measure contained three items, but subsequent analyses revealed that one item was potentially confusing; thus, it was removed from the scale. Removing this item increased the alpha level from.87 to.95, and a mean composite of the two remaining items was used in hypothesis testing (“I performed well on this task” and “My performance was probably above average”).
The procedural fairness measure, based on Gilliland (1994), was designed to assess how fair the participants perceived the selection procedure to be on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The measure was administered at the end of the study so as not to interfere with performance or with self-evaluations. The measure contains three items: “Whether or not I was selected for this job, I feel the selection process was fair,” “Whether or not I was selected for the job, I am satisfied with the selection process,” and “Overall, I feel dissatisfied with the way people were selected for the job,” with the final item being reverse-coded. An inspection of the inter-item correlations reveals that whereas the first two items correlated highly with each other (r = .85, p < .01), the third item (which was reverse-coded) exhibited a low correlation with both the first item (r = .36, p < .01) and the second item (r = .42, p < .01). Removing the third item increased the alpha level from.78 to.92, and a mean composite of the first two items was used in hypothesis testing (“… I feel the selection process was fair,” and “… I am satisfied with the selection process”).
Zero-order correlations, means, and standard deviations for all variables are presented in Table 1. As expected, being selected on the basis of gender (vs. merit) was negatively related to procedural fairness perceptions (r = −.11, p < .05) such that participants in the gender-based preferential selection condition reported perceiving the procedure as less fair. Also as expected, procedural fairness perceptions were associated with higher post-hire performance (r = .19, p < .01) and with higher post-hire self-evaluations of performance (r = .23, p < .01).
|1. Selection test||2||22||11.91||3.98||(.73)|
|3. Procedural fairness||1||5||3.20||1.07||.02||.19**||(.92)|
|4. Post-hire self-evaluation||1||5||2.76||1.34||.18**||.67**||.23**||(.95)|
|5. Pre-hire self-efficacy||1.38||5||3.40||0.71||.13**||.22**||.18**||.24**||(.96)|
|6. Participant gender||0||1||0.70||0.46||−.10*||.04||−.01||.03||−.06||—|
|7. Gender type of job||0||1||0.50||0.50||.00||.00||.00||.02||.03||−.06||—|
|8. Method of selection||0||1||0.50||0.50||−.01||.00||−.11*||−.04||−.03||−.05||.01|
Prior to testing the main hypotheses of interest, correlations between demographics and main study variables were calculated to identify potential covariates. The demographics were gender, age, race (Caucasian vs. non-Caucasian), and class type (psychology vs. management). No significant relationships were found between the demographics and the survey variables (pre-hire self-efficacy, procedural fairness, post-hire self-evaluations), and no significant relationships were found between the demographics and post-hire performance. A significant relationship was found between the demographics and the experimental conditions: Caucasian (vs. non-Caucasian) participants were more likely to be in the feminine (vs. masculine) job condition (r = −.10, p = .03), although the effect size was weak (ΩE = .58). Still, all hypotheses were tested with the race and age variables as controls, as well as the pre-hire selection test.1
Job gender type
After completing all of the study measures, the participants were asked to rate the extent to which the job was perceived as masculine in gender type (α = .76) and feminine in gender type (α =.78) on two-item scales with 5-point response formats. A sample item is “I see the executive [secretarial] position as a man's job.” Descriptive statistics for each job gender-type scale by applicant gender and by job gender type are presented in Table 2. We performed 2 two-way ANOVAs with participant gender and the gender type of the job as independent variables and these scales as dependent variables.
|Job gender type||Male||Female|
|Executive (N = 73)||Secretary (N = 80)||Executive (N = 180)||Secretary (N = 175)|
The results of the first ANOVA reveal a unique main effect for applicant gender, F(1, 504) = 49.83, p < .01; and job gender type, F(1, 504) = 8.12, p < .01, on perceptions of masculinity of the job. The main effect for job gender type was not in the expected direction, and this is better explained by the two-way interaction between participant gender and the gender type of the job. Specifically, males in the executive condition did not report perceiving the job as significantly more masculine in gender type than did those in the secretarial condition, t(151) = −0.04, p > .05; and the females in the executive condition actually reported perceiving the job as significantly less masculine in gender type than did those in the secretarial condition, t(353) = −5.60, p < .001.
The results of the second ANOVA reveal a unique main effect for applicant gender, F(1, 504) = 18.67, p < .01; and job type, F(1, 504) = 50.25, p < .01, on perceptions of femininity of the job. As expected, participants in the secretarial condition reported perceiving the job as more feminine in gender type than did those in the executive condition, and male participants reported perceiving both jobs as more feminine in gender type than did female participants. There was also an interactive effect of applicant gender and job gender type, F(1, 504) = 23.77, p < .01. The extent to which those in secretarial position reported the job as more feminine in gender type (as compared those in the executive position) was larger for male participants, t(151) = −5.89, p < .001, than it was for female participants, t(353) = −3.83, p < .001.
Although participants in the senior executive position did not report perceiving the job as more masculine in gender type than did those in the secretarial position, the manipulation was effective for females who read the task description in the pilot study. An important difference between the pilot study and the full study is the timing of the manipulation check. Whereas participants in the pilot study completed the manipulation check immediately after reading the job description, participants in the full study completed the manipulation check after performing the task and completing all the dependent measures, which may have influenced responses.
To test this possibility, and to provide another test of the effectiveness of our manipulation, we conducted a small follow-up study in which we presented 198 undergraduates (45 males, 153 females) with one of the job descriptions used in the primary study (see Appendix) and asked them to rate how “masculine” and how “feminine” they perceived the job to be. The ratings made by participants in the secretary condition were significantly different than were the ratings made by participants in the executive condition, and these differences were in the expected direction. More specifically, participants in the secretary condition rated the job as more feminine, t(196) = 7.73, p < .001; and less masculine, t(196) = −6.74, p < .001, than did those in the executive condition. Based on these results and those of the original pilot study, we contend that the job gender-type manipulation was effective in that the job of secretary was perceived as relatively feminine, whereas the job of executive was perceived as relatively masculine.
Method of selection
The manipulation check for method of selection contained two items (“I was selected for the senior executive [secretarial] position on the basis of my abilities,” and “… on the basis of my gender”). As shown in Table 3, those in the merit-based selection condition were significantly more likely to report that they had been selected on the basis of their abilities, t(507) = 6.90, p < .001, and significantly less likely to report they had been selected on the basis of their gender, t(507) = −12.32, p < .001.
|Item||Merit-based selection||Gender-based preferential selection|
|I was selected for the senior executive [secretary] position on the basis of my abilities.||3.24||1.11||2.54||1.20||6.90**||507|
|I was selected for the senior executive [secretary] position on the basis of my gender.||2.20||0.89||3.43||1.31||-12.32**||507|
Hypothesis 1 was supported in that method of selection did relate significantly to procedural fairness perceptions, t(507) = 2.49, p < .05, such that participants in the gender-based preferential selection condition (M = 3.08, SD = 1.13) reported perceiving lower levels of fairness than did those in the merit-based condition (M = 3.32, SD = 1.00).
Hypothesis 2 was tested by examining the correlation between procedural fairness perceptions and post-hire self-evaluations of performance (r = .23, p < .05; see Table 1). Thus, support was found for Hypothesis 2. Together with Hypothesis 1, this pattern of findings suggests that beneficiaries of gender- versus merit-based selection perceive it as a procedurally unfair advantage.
Hypothesis 3 was tested with simultaneous regression and the three-step procedure outlined by Baron and Kenny (1986). As shown in Table 4, procedural fairness perceptions were related to post-hire self-evaluations of performance (R2 = .05, p < .001), and to post-hire performance (R2 = .03, p < .001). Then, as shown by comparing the first and third parts of Table 4, the relationship between procedural fairness perceptions and post-hire self-evaluations remained significant, but dropped in magnitude after controlling for performance in Step 1. Further, the result of Sobel's (1982) test of indirect effects was statistically significant (4.16, p < .0001). These findings provide support for Hypothesis 3, which suggests that the relationship between procedural fairness perceptions and post-hire self-evaluations of performance was partially mediated by post-hire performance.
We tested Hypothesis 4 with moderated regression analysis. According to this hypothesis, job gender type will moderate the relationship between applicant gender and pre-hire self-efficacy such that females will have lower self-efficacy than will males for the masculine (but not for the feminine) job. As shown in Table 5, neither the participant gender nor the gender type of the job had a unique main effect on participants' pre-hire self-efficacy, but the two variables did have a significant interactive effect on pre-hire self-efficacy (ΔR2 = .009, p < .05). As expected, the correlation between participant gender and pre-hire self-efficacy varied by gender type of the job such that in the masculine job condition, females had lower levels of pre-hire self-efficacy than did males (r = −.15, p < .05), whereas no such relationship existed in the feminine job condition (r = .03, p > .05). In other words, there were differences by gender in the masculine job condition such that the pre-hire self-efficacy was lower for females (M = 3.31, SD = 0.75) than for males (M = 3.56, SD = 0.69). However, there were no gender differences in the feminine job condition such that the pre-hire self-efficacy of females (M = 3.44, SD = 0.67) was not significantly different from that of males (M = 3.39, SD = 0.69). Thus, Hypothesis 4 was supported.
|Job gender type||−1.51||1.10||.005|
|Job Gender Type × Gender||4.70*||2.19||.01||.009*|
We tested Hypothesis 5 using moderated regression analysis. According to this hypothesis, pre-hire self-efficacy moderates the relationship between procedural fairness perceptions and post-hire performance such that fairness matters more when self-efficacy is low. As shown in Table 6, there were unique main effects of procedural fairness perceptions and of pre-hire self-efficacy on performance (R2 = .07, p < .001), but the interaction between the two variables was not significant (ΔR2 = .00, p > .05). Thus, Hypothesis 5 was not supported.
Research has suggested that people receiving a reward readily form impressions of the fairness of the allocative process (Leventhal, 1980). The results of our study of applicant reactions to personnel selection systems are compatible with existing theoretical frameworks (e.g., Gilliland, 1993; Hausknecht et al., 2004; Ryan & Ployhart, 2000) in that perceptions of procedural fairness were found to relate positively to post-hire performance and to self-perceptions (also see quantitative reviews by Colquitt et al., 2001; Truxillo et al., 2004). These findings provide support for the idea that gender-based preferential selection operates as a procedurally unfair advantage in that it is a positive violation of the consistency rule and thus has negative consequences for beneficiaries (also see Ployhart & Ryan, 1998). That is, participants in the gender- versus merit-based selection condition perceived the procedure as less fair. This study's unique contribution is in demonstrating that procedural fairness perceptions related positively to post-hire self-evaluations of performance through an association with post-hire performance.
These results may help us to better understand the effects of perceived unfairness on post-hire self-perceptions. As suggested by theory (e.g., Gilliland, 1993; Heilman, 1994), preferential selection may not only be a procedurally unfair advantage, but it may also bring with it negative consequences for self-evaluations because of the resulting ambiguity about reason for hire. People who believe they were preferentially selected have not received much verification of internal capability, thus their competence is left open to question (Heilman, 1994; Heilman et al., 1990, 1997). Similarly, when the procedural fairness of a selection decision can be questioned, external attributions about the reason for hire are more likely (Gilliland, 1993).
Taken together, these literatures may point to external attributions (Weiner, 1985) as the psychological mechanism by which preferential selection has its detrimental effects on beneficiaries (also see Major et al., 1994; Turner et al., 1991). Consistent with the results of the present study, in which performance was found to partially mediate the effect of procedural fairness on post-hire self-evaluations, theory suggests that external attributions should make it relatively difficult to appropriately calibrate effort and to select tasks of appropriate difficulty (Crocker et al., 1991; Weiner, 1985). Indeed, studies by Heilman and Alcott (2001) suggest that women who believe that others view them as having been selected on the basis of gender rather than merit are more likely (a) to believe that others hold negative expectations of their competence; and (b) to exhibit timid, performance-limiting task decisions, as well as negative self-regard when they are uncertain about their ability level.
The finding that a procedurally unfair advantage (e.g., gender-based preferential selection) may result in self-limiting behavior (i.e., lower performance, lower post-hire self-evaluations of performance) is intriguing in that it may seem at odds with predictions from Adams' (1963) equity theory regarding conditions of overpayment (for a review, see Colquitt et al., 2005). However, Adams and Rosenbaum (1962, Experiment 2) predicted and found support for the idea that pieceworkers reduce rather than increase their productivity when they are overpaid. That is, whereas participants overpaid by the hour showed greater productivity (to reduce inequity), participants overpaid on a piece rate showed less productivity than did controls. Adams explained the rationale was that “because inequity was associated with each unit produced, inequity would increase as work proceeded; hence, subjects would strive not so much to reduce inequity as to avoid increasing it” (p. 434). Although the present study was not designed to test predictions from equity theory, and participants were not financially compensated, the goal of the task was for participants to create as many schedules as possible, which may have possibly created conditions similar to those experienced by the pieceworkers in the study by Adams and Rosenbaum. Thus, it would be interesting in future research on the relation between fairness and performance to attend to the type of performance examined (i.e., hourly or piece rate).
Another major purpose of the present research was to elucidate the conditions under which job applicants might view gender-based preferential hiring as procedurally unfair. We experimentally manipulated job gender type and found an interactive effect with applicant gender on pre-hire self-efficacy such that females had lower pre-hire self-efficacy than did males in the masculine job condition, but not in the feminine job condition. This finding builds on other research on the “think-manager-think-male” stereotype (e.g., Bosak & Sczesny, 2008). In particular, it possible that women are sociologically but not psychologically more vulnerable to lack of fit. Indeed, Heilman (1983) noted that lack of fit can have negative consequences for both men and women, and that gender bias can be directed at men as well as women. Typically, however, “women bear the brunt of gender bias in efforts to advance up the organizational level” (p. 294) because few organizational positions (particularly upper level ones) are believed to require predominantly feminine skills for success. Similarly, Welle and Heilman (2007) contended that the jobs that confer the most power are almost always masculine in gender type.
This brings forward a limitation of the present study: the probable confound between job gender type and job status. That is, the masculine job of executive is likely perceived as higher in status, as compared to the feminine job of secretary. Thus, although we interpret our findings in terms of Heilman's (1983) model such that a lack of fit explains the finding that females have lower self-efficacy than do males for the masculine job but not for the feminine job, this experimental confound leaves open the possibility that there is an alternative explanation for the results. If all study participants perceived the feminine job as relatively less appealing and important than the masculine job, then the basis of the gender differences in initial self-efficacy found in the feminine condition could be explained in part by male participants reporting relatively lower levels of self-efficacy in the feminine (vs. masculine) condition, as opposed to female participants displaying evidence of self-directed sex bias. To eliminate this experimental confound, future research could use jobs that are more comparable to each other in terms of their relative job status. In the present study, for example, we may have been able to devise a scheduling task for the jobs of secretary and mechanic. From the perspective of the participant—who would be adopting the perspective of a mechanic instead of executive—it would be relatively believable that the job entails a scheduling task.2
Other limitations of the present study involve the sample (i.e., undergraduates), the relatively contrived selection decision, and the relatively short time frame, which together may raise questions about the generalizability of the findings from the laboratory to the field. However, there is evidence to suggest that study participants were committed to the study; namely, they correctly completed an average of a 3.5 schedules in the time allotted, with a range of 0 to 10 schedules. Moreover, there was a positive correlation between the measures of ability and performance, providing another piece of evidence that study participants took the task seriously.3
Finally, manipulation checks indicate that study participants in the preferential selection condition believed that they had been selected at least in part on the basis of their gender. Also worth mentioning here is that the design of this and other studies (e.g., Heilman et al., 1990) uses as experimental manipulations relatively strong forms of gender- and merit-based selection (see Kravitz et al., 1997), thus perhaps preventing the findings from generalizing to situations in which additional considerations (e.g., seniority) clearly play a role in a given selection decision. With regard to job gender type (i.e., masculine and feminine), different scales were used across the different studies (i.e., the pilot study, the main study, and the follow-up study). A consistent measure of perceived sex linkage of roles (e.g., Major et al., 1994) would lead to less ambiguity.4
Further examination of changes in self-perceptions and performance over time, as described in existing models of organizational justice (e.g., Gilliland, 1994; also see Bauer et al., 1998; Ryan & Ployhart, 2000), would be beneficial. In the present study, we found no support for the hypothesis that the relationship between perceptions of procedural fairness and post-hire performance depends on initial (pre-hire) self-efficacy (also see Brutus & Ryan, 1998). In the case of gender-based preferential selection, another possible moderator is applicant gender, although post hoc exploratory analyses reveal no such moderator effect. Thus, whereas previous research may suggest that only female applicants will suffer from gender-based preferential selection, perhaps through pre-hire self-perceptions (e.g., Heilman et al., 1987, 1990, 1991; Turner et al., 1991), the results of the present study uniquely suggest otherwise: Although male applicants may be less likely than their female counterparts to be beneficiaries of gender-based preferential selection (cf. Heikes, 1991), the psychological conditions under which job applicants view an advantaging component of a hiring process as procedurally unfair appear to be rather similar.
The across-persons form of the consistency rule dictates that is necessary to apply similar procedures to all potential recipients of a desired outcome, and to give special advantage to none (Leventhal, 1980). A unique contribution of the present study is that even a positive violation (Ployhart & Ryan, 1998) was shown to have negative associations with participants' post-hire performance and self-evaluations of performance. Our study focused on gender-based preferential selection, but it is possible that other positive violations—such as being provided with “inside information” (Boffey, 1975, as cited in Leventhal, 1980) or being favored because of personal ties (e.g., friends, family, alumni connections)—operate in a similar fashion.
Future research might study the effects on beneficiaries of positive violations in general, as well as the conditions under which negative effects may be exacerbated or ameliorated (see Heilman & Welle, 2006). For example, the extent to which the advantaging components conflict with societal values and norms may worsen any negative effects (Turner & Pratkanis, 1994). In contrast, the presence of job-relevant information about which there is consensus may act as a “forceful antidote to stereotypic processes” (Heilman, 1983, p. 292). Indeed, job-relevant information may be especially important in cases of gender rarity, as preferential selection may be assumed when women are solos and explicit information about the selection policy is not provided (Heilman & Blader, 2001).
To achieve a diverse workforce, many organizations in the United States have adopted affirmative action programs (AAPs), which aim to increase the number of women and minorities through efforts related to recruitment, training, and the use of certain demographic characteristics (e.g., race, gender) as selection criteria (Leck, Saunders, & Charbonneau, 1996). As explained by Kravitz et al. (1997), case law set forth by the United States Supreme Court forbids the use of quotas to hire unqualified women and minorities over clearly qualified men and nonminorities (also see Kravitz, 2008). However, practitioners often report anecdotal evidence to the contrary, such as being informed one cannot promote someone of a certain race because of a lack of diversity in the upper ranks (Turner & Pratkanis, 1994). Also, countries other than the United States have different stances on preference. Indeed, according to Myors et al. (2008), “preferential treatment is a domain in which the United States emerges as a clear outlier,” compared to other countries. For example, in 2003, Rwanda passed a law that guarantees women 30% of the parliamentary seats in an effort to break up “old boy” networks, prompting critics to suggest that voters' choices are now limited by artificial categories (“Women Rising,” ). Moreover, even when preferential selection is not used, it may be assumed (e.g., Heilman & Blader, 2001; Heilman & Welle, 2006). Thus, for all of these reasons, it is important to understand the dynamics of gender-based preferential selection and the potentially unintended consequences for beneficiaries.
The results of the present investigation offer some specific recommendations for those designing and executing AAPs in personnel selection. First, publicly affirm the competence of a newly hired job applicant, especially when there is the possibility that the person may be perceived as a beneficiary of preferential selection. Drawing from the model by Gilliland (1993), we suggest that freely available information about merit-based reasons for hire is likely to enhance perceptions of procedural fairness and to diminish any external attributions as to why an individual was hired (also see Heilman et al., 1997). A related suggestion is to provide feedback that unambiguously yields internal attributions for performance, as doing so is likely to aid the recipient of the feedback in the calibration of effort and in the selection of tasks of appropriate difficulty (e.g., Crocker et al., 1991; Heilman & Alcott, 2001; Weiner, 1985). Finally, define jobs (and what constitutes job performance) according to specific behaviors that are effective at work, as opposed to general personality characteristics that can be (unfairly) distorted to fit gender stereotypes (Heilman & Haynes, 2008; Welle & Heilman, 2007).
The magnitude, pattern, and significance of the results were the same as those reported here and are available from the first author upon request.
We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for this helpful suggestion.
We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out.
We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for this helpful suggestion.
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Description of Secretarial Position
Think of the job of a SECRETARY in a Fortune 500 company such as IBM or Boeing. Think about your initial impressions of the job—for example, think about what a person with this job does every day, with whom this person might interact, and what the office of a secretary might look like. Now, imagine yourself as a SECRETARY for a Fortune 500 company such as IBM or Boeing. Today, you will be completing some of the duties your boss has requested. More specifically, you are going to create the schedule for your boss's subordinates. The organization for which you work is under construction, so space is currently very limited, and all employees must share one conference room. As the SECRETARY, it is your responsibility to come up with as many non-redundant conference room schedules as possible. This task is very important because the organization does not want to lose business and therefore needs to be ready to accommodate several clients' schedules.
Description of Senior Executive Position
Think of the job of a SENIOR EXECUTIVE in a Fortune 500 company such as IBM or Boeing. Think about your initial impressions of the job—for example, think about what a person with this job does every day, with whom this person might interact, and what the office of a senior executive might look like. Now, imagine yourself as a SENIOR EXECUTIVE for a Fortune 500 company such as IBM or Boeing. Today, you are going to create the schedules for your subordinates. The organization for which you work is under construction, so space is currently very limited, and all employees must share one conference room. As the SENIOR EXECUTIVE, it is your responsibility to come up with as many non-redundant conference room schedules as possible. This task is very important because the organization does not want to lose business and therefore needs to be ready to accommodate several clients' schedules.