Written by Emily Redler ’20
Almost everyone uses fragrances in their daily routine, whether it be a perfume, a cologne, or a deodorant. Putting on a fragrance is a common practice, and most people don’t think twice about how it may subconsciously affect how they are perceived by others. Fragrances are often gendered and perceived as masculine or feminine, and this subconscious perception may create biases according to gender stereotypes. The researchers for the present study (Sczesny & Stahlberg, 2002) were interested in if gendered fragrances can activate gender stereotypes in hiring.
It is well-established that there is often a gender bias in hiring, and one proposed explanation for this has to do with leadership and achievement attribution– when someone achieves a goal, what is attributed to the success? If the person is a woman, it is less likely that her success will be attributed to her skill than if the person is a man (Deaux, 1995). Therefore, a woman’s accomplishments when being examined by a hiring manager may be seen as less impressive and they may be hired at lower rates than men.
This study was run twice. For the first part, the participants were 74 students from the University of Mannheim in Germany. Each participant was told that they would be acting as a hiring manager for one applicant. After reading the applicant’s cover letter and resume, the participant would indicate whether or not they would hire the applicant and would rate the degree of certainty of their decision. Unbeknownst to the participant, the “applicant” was not real. Instead, two identical “applicants” were created, one with a typically masculine name and one with a typically feminine name. In addition, one-third of each applicant’s packets were sprayed with masculine perfume, one-third with feminine perfume, and one-third with no perfume.
The results showed that participants hired applicants whose packets were sprayed with a masculine perfume with higher degrees of certainty than the packets sprayed with no perfume, which were hired with higher degrees of certainty than packets sprayed with a feminine perfume. No effects were found concerning the gender of the applicant.
These findings show how easy it is to let unconscious stimuli activate stereotypes, and how things that we encounter in everyday life may be subconsciously affecting you. In hiring, it is especially important to minimize biases. The fact that feminine fragrances are a deterrent to being hired shows that there are systematic obstacles for women to overcome that run deep in society.