A new study suggests timing can affect whether females and minorities experience discrimination – at least in the case of higher education.
The finding comes from an experiment in which investigators sent emails 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 percent 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.
However, if the requested appointment was for that day, students of all types were equally likely to get an appointment.
According to researchers, the difference in response is that the time delay between the decision to meet and the moment of the requested appointment affects the way the request is processed.
The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.
Researchers believe the results show that 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.
Researchers say their findings are consistent with previous research that shows decision-makers thinking more abstractly rely more on stereotypes to fill out their picture of future events and their impact.
Experts say 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 Drs. 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.