Why women self-deselect from career opportunities

by Mar 2, 2017

It’s not about lack of confidence  – but outdated hiring practises

women self-deselect

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”.

Read: Why women receive confidence as arrogance

 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.

Read: How to pitch for a promotion – 7 tips to move up

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.

Read: Work-Life Balance – An Impossible Dream?

The reason why women self-deselect is as much about the changes needed in the hiring process  as women’s lack of confidence.

Does your company need identify and attract female candidates? Contact 3Plus NOW

Please complete our 3Plus poll. Why did you self-deselect from a hiring process?  

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
follow me

Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services

Individual services

Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.

Corporate services

The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)

Upcoming events



📢New Programme available with 3Plus International

“If you have a brain you have a bias” and nowhere is this more apparent than in our hiring processes.

The ‘How to Mitigate Bias in the Recruitment Process’ programme is designed to convey the serious nature of bias in the recruitment process with a focus on gender bias and the way it impacts both businesses and organisations, but in a way that is thought-provoking and engaging.



Full programme details HERE

Dates for the Diary

10th June 2022 - Recession Proofing Your Recruitment Career with Brainfood Live On Air REGISTER HERE


Check out our exciting portfolio of offerings to support your business in upskilling and competence building for your teams, to address the unprecedented challenges that women face in this new totally digital world.


best job search


3Plus Online Learning Programs 





Download and listen free podcasts

Related articles

The only woman in the room

The only woman in the room

Times have changed and coffee and women are no longer mentioned in the same sentence, so what do the only woman in the room face in today’s workplace

read more