Lauren Rivera. When Two Bodies Are (Not) a Problem: Gender and Relationship Status Discrimination in Academic Hiring

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When Two Bodies Are (Not) a Problem: Gender and Relationship Status Discrimination in Academic Hiring

Although junior faculty search committees serve as gatekeepers to the professoriate and play vital roles in shaping the demographic composition of academic departments and disciplines, how committees select new hires has received minimal scholarly attention. In this paper, I highlight one mechanism through which committees evaluate applicants and contribute to gender inequalities in academic careers: relationship status discrimination. Through a comparative, ethnographic case study of junior faculty search committees at a large R1 university, I show that committees actively considered women’s—but not men’s—relationship status when selecting hires. Drawing from gendered scripts of career and family that present men’s careers as taking precedence over women’s, committee members believed that heterosexual women whose partners held academic or high-status jobs were not “moveable” and excluded such women from offers, when there were viable male or single female alternatives. Conversely, male applicants’ relationship status was discussed infrequently, and all female partners were seen as moveable. Consequently, I show that the “two-body problem” is a gendered phenomenon embedded in cultural stereotypes and organizational practices that can disadvantage women in academic hiring. I conclude by discussing the implications of such relationship status discrimination for sociological research on labor market inequalities and faculty diversity. 

Lauren Riverais an Associate Professor of Management & Organizations and Sociology at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. She is an expert on workplace evaluations and has written extensively on hiring and promotion practices in elite professional service firms. Her award-winning book Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs (Princeton University Press, 2015) investigates class, gender, and racial biases in hiring decisions for top-tier investment banks, consulting firms, and law firms. Her research has been featured in the Atlantic, Economist, Financial Times, Fortune, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and NPR. In recognition for her work, Professor Rivera received the American Sociological Association's William Julius Wilson Early Career Award. She received her B.A. in sociology and psychology from Yale University and her Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University.