Like polo and sailing? Listing it on a law firm resume helped men but not women, study finds

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woman sailing

Resumés signaling wealth and privilege help men but not women get interviews for summer associate positions in BigLaw, a new study has found.

Resumés indicating a privileged background resulted in a 16 percent callback rate for men, the Atlantic reports. That was more than four times the callback rate for privileged women, less-privileged women, and less-privileged men combined.

A follow-up survey of 210 lawyers who reviewed the fake resumés suggested they perceived the men as being more committed to their careers than upper-class women. Both upper-class men and women were perceived as being a better fit with law-firm culture and clients than their lower-class counterparts.

Interviews with 20 lawyers with hiring experience helped explain the study findings. Some hiring lawyers perceived the privileged women to be secretly looking for a husband or to be biding time before leaving their careers to be stay-at-home moms. Lower-class women, on the other hand, were perceived as more “hungry” and dedicated to earning money. And both lower-class men and women were perceived as less of a good fit and better suited for public-service and government jobs.

In the first round of the study (PDF), researchers sent the fake resumés to 316 top law firms, with some variations. The purported summer-associate job seekers were at the top of their class at selective yet second-tier schools from the geographic location of the targeted law firm.

Resumés were tweaked to indicate differences in class background. Fake applicants from elite backgrounds listed an undergraduate athletic award (instead of an athletic award for athletes on financial aid), mentoring of first-year law students (rather than mentoring of first-generation college students), participating in a college sailing team (rather than a track and field team), a personal interest in polo (rather than pick-up soccer), and an interest in classical music (rather than country music).

Overall the 316 applications generated 22 interview invitations. Higher-class men got 13 invitations, higher-class women got three invitations, lower-class men got one invitation, and lower-class women got five invitations.

The researchers are Northwestern University sociologist Lauren Rivera and András Tilcsik of the University of Toronto. Their study will be published in the American Sociological Review.

Hat tip to Bloomberg Big Law Business.

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