Students and other job seekers looking to enter the business world are up against an overwhelming degree of favoritism in the workplace, according to a study released by the McDonough School of Business last month.

Through online interviews with over 300 senior business executives, researcher and graduate student Jonathan Gardner found that subjective measures still play a major role in executive promotions today.

“The world is still imperfect. People don’t always get the promotions they deserve,” said Professor Lamar Reinsch, Gardner’s instructor at the MSB. “We think that’s a shame, but we also think that’s the reality.”

Though 94 percent of those polled said that their company has policies to avoid favoritism, more than half said they already knew whom they wanted to promote before seeing other candidates.

Almost all of those executives — 96 percent in total — said that they ended up promoting the favored employee.

Despite these statistics, most executives were unwilling to acknowledge possible bias in their own workplace conduct.

While 92 percent of the executives said that favoritism occurs in most large organizations, only about one quarter of them admitted to practicing favoritism.

The study originally served as Gardner’s capstone project for his executive master’s in leadership program at the MSB, a program designed to be a launching point for graduate students’ careers in business.

“[The project] is an opportunity for students to integrate all of their learning from the program into a topic of personal or professional interest and often serves as a catalyst for further leadership development, even after the program ends,” said Melissa Trotta, the associate dean of executive education at the MSB.

Gardner is now the chief operating officer and senior managing director at Penn Schoen Berland, a research firm specializing in political polling.

Reinsch expressed confidence in the study’s conclusions, saying that he hoped it would have an impact in the business world.

“[Gardner] and I would both hope that it stimulates people in all sorts of organizations to think about the process they use for promotions at the senior level,” he said.

Reinsch added that the results of the study also pointed to several areas employees should focus on to increase their chances of climbing the job ladder

“Work on being very competent, preparing yourself to do your job well,” he said. “It is also a good thing to have a good relationship with your supervisor.”

He advised those entering the workforce to use the results of the study to better their performance rather than be discouraged by the findings.

“Most of us at some point in our careers are going to be victims of a decision that is less than perfect,” said Reinsch. “But that’s not going to happen most of the time.”

Gardner could not be reached for comment.

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