Research / BFI Working PaperFeb 16, 2023

Customer Discrimination in the Workplace: Evidence from Online Sales

Erin Kelley, Gregory Lane, Matthew Pecenco, Edward Rubin

Many workers are evaluated on their ability to engage with customers. We measure the impact of gender-based customer discrimination on the productivity of online sales agents working across Sub-Saharan Africa. Using a novel framework that randomly varies the gender of names presented to customers without changing worker behavior, we find the assignment of a female-sounding name leads to 50 percent fewer purchases. Customers also lag in responding, are less expressive, and avoid discussing purchases. We show similar results for customers from different parts of the world and across workers. Discrimination directly affecting worker productivity has important labor market implications.