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Timing Can Influence Whether Women And Minorities Face Discrimination

May 22, 2012

Timing can affect whether females and minorities experience discrimination – says a study published today in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Emails were sent from fictional prospective doctoral students to 6,500 professors across 258 institutions, requesting a meeting either that day or next week. Prospective doctoral students with Caucasian male names were 26% more likely to be granted an appointment with a professor when requesting one for next week than those with names signaling that they were minorities (African American, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese) or females. But if the requested appointment was for that day, students of all types were equally likely to get an appointment.

The difference, the paper explains, is that the time delay between the decision to meet and the moment of the requested appointment affects the way the request is processed. An individual considering scheduling an appointment today thinks concretely and considers “Can/where/when will I do it?” whereas an individual considering the same appointment in the distant future thinks more abstractly, and considers “Is doing it worthwhile/valuable/desirable?” Those who focus on the desirability of a meeting are more likely to discriminate against women and minorities than those who focus on logistical concerns.

These results fit well with previous research showing that decision-makers thinking more abstractly rely more on stereotypes to fill out their picture of future events and their impact. The research both highlights discrimination in academia and shows that subtle shifts in context, such as timing, can alter patterns of race- and gender-based discrimination, even eliminating it altogether.

The study was conducted by professors Katherine Milkman at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Modupe Akinola at Columbia Business School and Dolly Chugh at New York University Stern School of Business.

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