The Impact of Equal Opportunity Statements in shaping the Gender Distribution in Job Applications

Gender disparities in the workplace have been a resistant and long-standing issue. In the European Union, women still earn about 13% less than men on average (European Commission, 2022). Women also often face barriers to career advancement. They are less likely to apply for promotions and systematically seem to apply for lower-paying jobs than men (Haegele, 2021; Fluchtmann et al., 2021). This is also reflected in the persistent underrepresentation of women in top leadership positions. Recent research by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) highlights that only 21.1% of executives and 8.4% of CEOs in the largest publicly listed companies in the European Union are women (EIGE, 2022).

Affirmative action measures, such as gender quotas, gender-specific training and preferential treatment aim to support women in accessing more opportunities, and in turn may reduce gender employment and pay gaps (Balafoutas and Sutter, 2012; Niederle et al., 2013). Such measures, on the other hand, may have unintended consequences in terms of efficiency, intra-group inequality and intergroup relations. For this reason, they are at the centre of the economic and political debate (see for example Gender Balance on Corporate Boards, European Commission, 2022).

In our research we explore how Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statements, a promising, low-effort affirmative action measure, can be leveraged to advance policy goals and reduce the gender employment gap. EEOs are statements, usually added to job advertisements or on a company’s website, that express the company’s commitment to providing non-discriminatory employment.

In the economic literature, EEO statements have been largely overlooked. In 2002, McNab and Johnston published the only study focusing on the effect of EEOs on women. They highlighted that EEO statements can make organizations more appealing to women candidates. However, recent studies have sparked a debate on the impact of EEO statements on the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups. For example, whereas Flory et al. (2021) suggest that a company explicitly signaling its interest in attracting a diverse workforce encourages minorities to apply, Leibbrandt and List (2018) found that EEO statements may discourage minorities from applying to job opportunities due to stereotype threat and tokenism.

Our study contributes to this debate by testing the effectiveness of EEO statements in encouraging women to apply to more demanding, and better-paid vacancies as well as investigating the effect of the presence of EEO statements on job applications of men.