Gender masking in employment interviews produces surprising results

Aline Lerner writes: is a platform where people can practice technical interviewing anonymously and, in the process, find jobs based on their interview performance rather than their resumes. Since we started, we’ve amassed data from thousands of technical interviews, and in this blog, we routinely share some of the surprising stuff we’ve learned. In this post, I’ll talk about what happened when we built real-time voice masking to investigate the magnitude of bias against women in technical interviews. In short, we made men sound like women and women sound like men and looked at how that affected their interview performance. We also looked at what happened when women did poorly in interviews, how drastically that differed from men’s behavior, and why that difference matters for the thorny issue of the gender gap in tech.

Unsurprisingly, many people want to talk about this experiment only in terms of their pre-existing bigotries and/or political agendas. Ms. Lerner, though, provides a more thoughtful and interesting perspective.


Interesting and enlightening.

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I can’t say if it would have affected the result, or by how much, but there is still some female intonation in that modulated video. If I didn’t know otherwise it would immediately set off my t-dar (trans equivalent of gaydar).


Curious, and something I’m glad is being done because it’s always a good day when one’s existing biases are challenged. After all if you don’t know they’re there, how can you change for the better?


How Samantha Bee Crashed the Late Night Boys Club (warning: autoplay video at top of page)

Bee took the same approach to hiring writers, creating a blind application process that didn’t favor people who’d already had success. (It spelled out, for example, how scripts should look when submitted, leveling the playing field for the uninitiated.) Lo and behold, she ended up with a writers’ room that looked kind of like America: 50 percent female; 30 percent nonwhite. One of her hires had been working at the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles. “We don’t feel like we solved the diversity problem. We didn’t fix racism, quite,” Bee jokes. “I mean, we almost did. We’ll see how things pan out. I’m feeling really good about it.” Anyway, the strategy worked. “I have literally filled my office with people who have been underestimated their entire careers. To a person, we almost all fit into that category. It is so joyful to collect a group of people who nobody has ever thought could grasp the reins of something and fucking go for it.”


I’ve now read the entire piece. Wow, talk about unconsciously bringing your own assumptions into the process! (Yes, women can be sexists too.)

Women get significantly more negative feedback at every step in life: family, education, social sphere, work, etc. It’s not that they (we) give up after one bad interview, or when they’re no longer top of their class in a particular subject.

What seems much more likely is that they figured out quickly that the particular job interview platform being used was not likely to pan out, so they wisely cut their losses.

I’ll bring up yet again an excellent example of subtle bias that men as a group don’t see: here on BB women use the like system differently than it was specifically set up for, and we’ve been told tough luck, we have to accept the (male determined) format. This means I do not read or post here as often as I would like, and I know several other women have stated the same thing. The fact that we’re still here anyway shows that we’re not whiners who leave as soon as our fee-fees are hurt. But in a work situation rather than fun, hell-yeah we’d be finding an alternate situation if at all possible, because we know it almost never gets better.


I am looking forward to reading this later today when I have time.

One question which springs to mind is: why voice modulation instead of simply using text? It sounds technically more difficult, and text would provide better “masking” anyway.

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I would think they’d want to see if the effect was not just neutralized, but reversed, when the women had “male-sounding” voices and vice-versa.


This is intriguing. Is there previous discussion on the subject, for the curious?


Yes, I’m not sure what the like system is for specifically, but I’m probably doing it wrong. (I’m just intrigued to find out the specific taxonomy of my wrongness).


I know that there’s not nearly enough of them to go round. :frowning:


That’s what I thought, too. The men were too bloodyminded to know when to quit, and thus, paradoxically, they succeeded. Like Ethan Hawke’s character in Gattaca.

I’ve always thought that the reason there are fewer women in high tech than men is because women are smarter. If we’re talking about salaried positions, well, you can make more money for less work in many other fields. And this whole thing where industry expects you to work more than 40 hours for only 40 hours of pay is caused by stupid (and, typically, young) men behaving like that’s normal and reasonable.

PS: I never run out of likes. But I only click posts I actually like, which means I don’t generally click excellent posts about horrible events…


I wasn’t on a normal computer this weekend. Now that I am, I’ve been searching, but can’t seem to find the 2 or 3 different threads this has come up in.

It all started because a bunch of Regulars were complaining about the like limit, which apparently is specifically set lower than some of us would want because it’s meant to foster more posts…we’re supposed to respond to someone’s post rather than just like it. But it became obvious over time that most of the people complaining are women, and the complaint from all of us who have the problem (including the men) is that we use the like system differently than that. When I run out of likes, for example, I leave the forum. I don’t keep reading and responding, because most of the time, I don’t feel I have something substantive to add, so why waste the bandwidth? Liking someone’s post can mean I read it (if it’s a response to me, but I really don’t have anything more to say…kind of like when do you stop saying thank you for someone else’s thank you to you), or it could mean I agree and don’t have anything better to add, or I think it was funny, or heartfelt, or I want to show I empathize with the poster. Women are socialized to be less intrusive: we don’t automatically assume that an entire forum of people would want to spend time reading our “me too” or “I agree” post. This means that some men fall into this way of thinking too, but there is a huge gender imbalance in usage on this issue.

To be fair, BB did substantially increase the like limit once a poster reaches the Regular level as a result of our feedback, which was very helpful. Still not enough for some of us…and in fact, I don’t think any woman on this forum who was bumping up against the old threshold has found it to be enough yet (could be wrong about that). But at least they did listen and we did get some improvement.


Exactly. Whereas I would click, to mean “I hear you and I feel for you”. Two different ways of using the same mechanism.


Or even longer, sometimes useful, sometimes ‘blahblah’, posts. I also understood that the ‘I understand’ or ‘me too’ posts are also not encouraged. Agreeable.
Most of the time I think: it’s said and done already, and better than I would have worded. Or, I do have something to add to this discussion, but who is waiting for my poor worded argument. But, I’m ‘good’ in telling a kind of ‘me too’ stories.

So maybe not a gender thing? But about people who want to interact, show they are reading, there compassion, support, but not willing or seeing the necessity to drop (always) there thingie in the comments.
And indeed, in a good reading session you run out of likes in no time at a busy and with good people writing good, BBS like this.


That’s what I wanted a banana icon for. To show I “just looked at it”. Not to indicate approval or pleasure, but rather to show that I’d read the message and (hopefully) received the information someone was kind enough to share.


OK, I guess I’m on the women’s team on this issue then. Heart can mean “love”; “this is how I feel too”, “I feel for you”; “I know that feel”; “I’m glad you said that” or a few other things in my book.

It’s also why I was a little confused about the comments by the regular women that they wanted vocal support by the men on some gendered issues. I tend to just :heart: where I don’t think my voice would be adding anything.


The site’s primarily intended for people to practice interviewing skills, and most interviewing is non-textual. As I understand it, the organizations who have agreed to participate (and some do hire, apparently) aren’t modifying their online interviewing process which includes observations of problemsolving approaches in real time (which you can’t really do in text) as well as verbal Q & A.

And you’re right, of course; the pre-existing verbal process did make this harder!

Lately, in interviews I like to ask an unanswerable question to see what the reaction will be. It often tells me more about the candidate than anything else does.


Curious and something I hadn’t grokked to. hHow do you use the like system I mean I could make a guess, but I’d rather hear your take on it rather than assume, get it wrong, and build everything else from that wrong assumption.

Edit: That’s the problem of immediately scrolling down the whole thread on making a response and having no way of going back to where you were. I kinda missed the explaination. OOPS.

I’d also like to second the ‘banana’ icon as a ‘I saw this’ as opposed to a generic heart since heart/love can be conlaited meaning-wise (Then again doesn’t this go back to an old discussion over adding more icons/a more granular ‘like’ system focused on ‘I thought this was funny’ ‘I liked what was said’ ‘I feel for you’ etc?)


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