Why women self-deselect from career opportunities
It's not about lack of confidence - but outdated hiring practises
It is now the stuff of gender balance legend. A study from an internal Hewlett Packard report, cited in Lean In, The Confidence Code and numerous other posts and books, discusses the reasons women self-deselect from potential career opportunities. According to the findings, women lack confidence to put themselves forward.
“Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them”.
Male coded hiring processes cause women to self-deselect
In 20 + years’ experience in executive search and coaching, my observation is that lack of confidence is only one of the reasons women self-deselect for new jobs or internal promotions. The most common reason for any reluctance to engage, is that they believe that the job profile is a true account of the qualifications needed for the job. They don’t understand that the hard skills and some of the soft skills stated are an “ideal world” situation for any potential employer. They also don’t perceive the recruitment process as one of persuasion and negotiation, where building a relationship and self-advocating plays a vital role, providing that core hard skill requirements are broadly met. There needs to be a much greater commitment to keeping job profiles real.
Recruitment process plays a part
The issue is not so much with the female candidates themselves, but the way the recruitment and selection process is presented and experienced. Very often, especially in junior to mid-level roles the process is transactional. Fear of failure because they don’t meet the expectations stated in the profile is a factor, but many recruiters and head hunters are riddled with unconscious bias themselves. They are unable to understand how to allay the fears of female candidates and make them feel comfortable with any hiring protocols. Women tend to be process driven and more respectful of rules and the time of others.These factors are also important and contribute to the nuanced reasons why women self-deselect.
Male Attitude - not aptitude
A report from McKinsey suggests that men are more frequently hired or promoted based on their potential (attitude not aptitude) and women for their experience and qualifications. In Europe these considerations come second to their flexibility, their appearance and whether or not they have children. Women also place greater store on formal education and experience and if they believe they are lacking in any of these areas, they will automatically either withdraw or fail to engage.
Work / life issues
Other concerns are centred around work/life issues, as women still take care of most of the childcare and domestic arrangements, despite men availing themselves of flex options in increasing numbers. Having an existing relationship with a boss built up over time makes life easier. The hiring process needs to address these issues early and up front to make it clear that these benefits are available from the get-go. Currently they tend to be part of the post offer negotiation and even onboarding processes. The fact they are not advertised puts many women off.
The reason why women self-deselect is as much about the changes needed in the hiring process as women’s lack of confidence.
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