June 26 (UPI) -- Bosses that deny the problem of discrimination in the workplace are more likely to practice gender bias themselves, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.
The new research suggests that gender bias is built into the foundations of a career path, researchers say.
Even if a manager claims to treat an employee based on their competence alone, the study proves the competence and performance evaluations that many managers rely on are biased themselves, they said.
"To be clear, it isn't a small fraction of managers who hold this belief," Christopher Begeny, a postdoctoral research fellow in the psychology department at the University of Exeter in Britain, told UPI in an email.
"In our study, this was actually the most common belief that managers held -- 45 percent believed gender bias was no longer an issue in their profession," Begeny said.
To better understand how gender bias plays out in the office, researchers asked managers to review a description of a veterinary surgeon, a fictitious performance review, and offer salary recommendations.
All the managers were given the same description, but some featured a female name, while others featured a male name.
Despite the identical descriptions, managers recommended an 8 percent higher salary on average.
Participating managers also filled out a questionnaire about the prevalence of gender bias in the workplace. Managers who claimed bias no longer existed in their profession were more likely to perpetuate gender bias, offering the hypothetical male employee a higher salary than his female counterpart.
"We also asked managers about how they would treat this employee if she/he was employed in their own clinical practice," said Begeny, lead author of the newly published study. "This included asking managers if they would be willing to let this employee take on new supervisory/managerial responsibilities -- and thus, develop those more advanced skills -- and whether they would encourage him/her to pursue key promotion opportunities in the near future."
The managers who denied gender bias being a problem were more likely to advise, or intend, poorer treatment of the hypothetical female employee.
"This finding is critically important, because it shows how managers' biases can affect not just women's current employment situation -- current pay, for example -- but the entire trajectory of their career," Begeny said.
"Their biased perceptions of a female employee's competence ultimately results in giving her fewer opportunities to develop new skills, and discouraging her from pursuing key promotions," he said.
In a separate survey, researchers asked veterinarians about their career experiences. Female vets were more likely to report having experienced workplace discrimination and less likely to have experienced recognition by their colleagues.
The results of the experiment involving managers and fictitious performance reviews reflect what real vets reporting having experienced over the course of their careers. The results also reflect the very real gender pay gaps that numerous economic studies have identified.
In many fields, progress has been made toward opening up leadership opportunities to women, but the latest research suggests gender parity across managerial positions won't be enough to erase gender bias in the workplace. In the experiment, female managers who failed to perceive gender bias as ongoing problem were just as likely to perpetuate the gender pay gap.
"This means that as other STEM professions strive to establish greater representations of women, it will be important that they carefully consider what any change in representation signifies in terms of progress for their field, what it does not signify, and what new barriers to gender equality might surface in its wake," Begeny said.
"As this research shows, even when issues of women's representation have largely been resolved -- even when there is a wealth of women who have made it into a field's 'pipeline,' with careers fully underway -- gender biases can thrive," he said.