This hidden bias might be why you're not getting ahead at work
Men are more likely to be called by their last names than women. A new study says that could be holding women back.
What's holding you back at work? The shifty cubemate who always takes more credit than he deserves? That micromanaging boss who fusses over every hair-splitting detail? The flaky assistant who loses important papers and accidentally hangs up on your clients?
Turns out, it might be something a bit more abstract. A new study shows that in a corporate setting, people are more than twice as likely to refer to men by their last names than women – and that could be doing serious damage to women's advancements in business, politics, sports and virtually every aspiration under the sun.
The study was led by Melissa Ferguson and Stav Atir of Cornell University. Ferguson, a professor of psychology, is considered an expert in social cognition. Her co-researcher, Atir, is a graduate student in social psychology who was born in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The researchers say that when a professional is referred to by their surname, it grants them a higher degree of "fame" than if the person was called by their full name, or even just their first name. "They are consequently seen as higher status and more deserving of eminence-related benefits and awards," Atir and Ferguson wrote.
To conduct their research, Atir and Ferguson examined transcripts, phone calls and scientists' bios in several different fields.
In one experiment, they analyzed 4,494 comments on Rate My Professors, a website where students can review their professors. They found that students were 55.9 percent more likely to refer to a male than female professor by surname.
In another, they analyzed transcripts from prominent radio news programs and found speakers were "more than twice as likely" to use a surname when speaking about a man than when speaking about a woman.
"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," they wrote.
Scientists don't know exactly why this is happening, but they have no problem speculating: Many people automatically assume that a high-ranking person in the workplace is male, so calling them by their surname seems more natural.
Hear that, Newman? As if we even know your first name?
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