Employers' Biases and Women Job Search

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is characterized by historically low female labor force participation. Morocco is among the few countries that have recorded a sustained drop, from 26.3 percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2019. Even conditional on labor force participation, women often face a higher unemployment rate; this is especially striking for educated women in urban areas. In this project, I will examine the role of demand and supply factors in constraining women’s participation in the labor market. In particular, I am interested in better understanding the potential role of mistaken beliefs among firms and jobseekers in inhibiting employment among highly educated women. This proposal funds travel for me to conduct exploratory research to understand the feasibility and relevance of potential randomized evaluations of interventions aimed at easing women's labor force participation constraints. One hypothesis I would like to test is whether, when screening job applicants, employers hold systematically biased beliefs by gender on different dimensions: (i) hard and soft skills; (ii) work schedule flexibility; (iii) time out of work due to parental leave or childcare; (iv) gendered team dynamics. I would also like to elicit how much weight they put on each of these dimensions when making their recruitment decisions. The overall goal would be to measure the distribution of discrimination across a representative set of employers. I would then build on the observed pattern to design an intervention with employers. From the jobseekers’ perspective, I am also interested in better understanding how women jobseekers adjust to what they perceive of the employers’ behaviors. One hypothesis would be that the perceived lack of opportunity or barriers to entry in the job market may lead to discouragement with women exiting the labor force prematurely or applying to a too restricted set of job positions. By correcting their beliefs about potential employers, I could test whether their job search behavior adjusts. My exploratory fieldwork in Morocco would involve focus groups and qualitative interviews with employers and prospective job seekers. I will assess the scope for mistaken beliefs and pilot information interventions that could help resolve some of these frictions.

RFP Cycle:
  • Louise Paul-Delvaux
  • Project development grant