Erica Carleton, of USask’s Edwards School of Business, is testing whether sleepiness may influence bias in promoting and recruiting women leaders. (Photo: Submitted)

Sleep-deprived decision makers may be less likely to appoint women to top jobs

Research into link between sleepiness and bias among $647,000 in federal funding awards.

Sleep-deprived decision makers may be less likely to appoint women to leadership positions, according to research being carried out at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

A study by USask’s Edwards School of Business is examining a possible link between sleepiness and prejudice in promoting women to leadership positions, including company boards.

The research, funded by $58,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), will put to the test findings showing that sleep-deprived employers are less able to control innate bias the next day.

“We are all guilty of applying stereotypes, and when we are sleepy we don’t have the cognitive capacity to override this. Self-regulation, or self-control, is more difficult when you are tired. However, research shows that people can—and do—actively suppress bias, even unconscious bias, when making hiring decisions. But if they are sleepy this is harder to do,” said Erica Carleton, assistant professor of organizational behavior, who is leading the study. 

Prior research showed that sleepiness leads to more racial and gender-based discrimination in hiring decisions. This research will examine the impact of lack of sleep on the promotion of women to leadership roles and whether sleepy decision makers find it harder to suppress bias, including unconscious bias

Volunteer subjects will intentionally be deprived of sleep and then put through a series of tests the next day, including simulated scenarios involving the promotion of women to leadership roles.

The researchers will also hope to find an intervention to reduce discrimination. They will test whether mindfulness, (an awareness of the current moment) can reduce the effects of sleepiness on bias by increasing self-control.

“Looking at how we can reduce the effects of sleepiness on hiring and promotion decisions is important. Mindfulness provides an opportunity to enhance self-control in the moment, when getting more sleep isn’t an option,” Carleton said.

The research team, which includes Megan Walsh, of Edwards School of Business, and Nick Turner of the University of Calgary, will test the impact of lack of sleep on hiring women from outside organisations for leadership roles, promoting women, as well as the impact of mindfulness on attenuating bias.

The study will also examine if people with hiring and promotion powers subscribe to stereotypical views of women, commonly found in work-place. These include:

  • Women can’t lead companies because they are not assertive enough
  • Women with children can’t perform in top roles because they prioritise their family
  • Women should worry less about career advancement and their rights and more about being good wives and mothers
  • Swearing and obscenity are more repulsive in the speech of a woman than a man

Carelton is one of ten USask researchers to be awarded a total of $646,958 in Insight Development Grants from the SSHRC. The other recipients are:

  • MJ Barrett, School of Environment and Sustainability, $63,569, Deepening connection in pursuit of environmental sustainability: Assessing a promising lever for shifting assumptions of separation
  • Guidon Fenig Braverman, economics department, College of Arts and Science, $74,162, Identifying rules of thumb in consumption and saving decisions
  • Aloysius Newenham-Kahindi, Edwards School of Business, $60,320, Developing reputation in emerging economies: the case of FDIs and MNEs in the east African community          
  • Laura Wright, sociology department, College of Arts and Science, $62,963, Educational differences in the second half of the gender revolution in Canada
  • Kiran Banerjee, political studies department, College of Arts and Science, $61,675, Non-state actors and forced migration: re-thinking refugee protection beyond the state
  • Alexander Crizzle, School of Public Health, $71,955, Evaluation of a community- led transportation service in rural Saskatchewan
  • Patrick Lloyd-Smith, agricultural and resource economics department, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, $74,909, Assessing the economic value of restoring the Saskatchewan river delta
  • Joseph Schmidt, Edwards School of Business, $61,500, The effects of job advertisement messaging and applicant traits on job pursuit decisions
  • Enchuan Shao, economics department, College of Arts and Science, $58,364, Money and credit with endogenous default

In addition, 30 USask graduate students have been awarded a total of $1.16 million through the SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctoral (CGSD) and Master’s (CGSM) awards. Among the recipients is PhD student Justin Fisher who will study the history of fossil fuels in Saskatchewan and its effects on the Prairie economy. Master’s student Jessica Llewelyn-Williams will examine the implications of cannabis legalization on university students. Follow this link for the full list of recipients.

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