12 key steps to attract female talent

It can be difficult to attract female talent, but the benefits are huge. Here are some simple ways to making your hiring process appeal more to women.

It is commonplace for organisations to scratch their heads in confusion and wonder why they don’t attract female talent for their jobs. This is even more surprising because we know that HR is predominantly composed of women. Then you see bemused male recruiters posting questions in their LinkedIn streams, querying research that has been around for a while. That’s a sure sign that this is becoming a mainstream issue and not what one HR leader described  as “the sales monkey in the sector.”  

Attract female talent

Women need different information

So let’s look at what we know. The main issue is that male coded recruitment practices are used to try to attract female talent. It may work sometimes for those women who are gender bi-lingual and can speak “Mench.” These women are comfortable in male dominated environments and are not deterred by language use. They probably don’t even notice it. But junior women may not be so familiar.  They have also been raised with different expectations.  So to strengthen the female talent pipeline, recruiters and hiring managers need to put some effort into what works for women to increase the number of  female candidate applications.

We know there are certain factors resonate with women job applicants that may not be necessary for men. Organisations need to apply the information that we know will generate interest with women or at least quell their concerns. The days of unisex hiring processes, with a one size fits all approach, are coming to an end.

12 Tips to attract female talent and  generate more women candidates

#1 Learn how women look for jobs and what motivates them

Women look for jobs and approach job search differently to men. It’s important to know what those differences are. Publicise your female friendly processes and systems. Many women self-de-select when faced with ambiguity. Understanding what those concerns are and going out of your way to be transparent and provide relevant information will overcome any reluctance to apply. Women are put off by inflated qualifications that seem to be required for any opening. Be clear about what competences are mandatory and which ones are desirable. Even specify that candidates who don’t meet all the requirements will be considered, although some HR contacts have concerns about that. Research suggests that men will apply for a job when the meet only 60% of the criteria (I would say even less in some cases).

Women will only apply if they meet 80-100% and tend to follow guidelines. Focus on what women will be required to do in the role rather than what they may have achieved in the past.

#2 Carry out an audit of your hiring practises

Have a through understanding of how your processes work and how your candidate experience will be received by female candidates. Male coded practises and approaches reduce the interest of women at the point of recruitment into many organisations.

There is a tendency to commit to one way of approaching a challenge and then waiting for it to be over before monitoring the results and deciding how well this is working.  Instead, run parallel searches to find what works best.  Research from LinkedIn  indicates that when female job seekers  know how many other people had applied for a position “increased the likelihood that they would also apply.” This made no difference to the number of male applicants.

#3 Make gender balanced short lists company policy

PWC have just banned male only short lists. Make gender balanced short lists part of your recruitment team’s guidelines.

#4 Have unconscious bias training for all in the hiring process

It should be basic that unconscious bias training and processes to highlight any potential bias should be embedded into any hiring process but they frequently aren’t. We all have biases and we all need to become mindful of them. I would go as far as to say that you shouldn’t work in recruitment without that training;

#5 Create gender neutral adverts to appeal to women

Research tells us that using male coded language deters women from making applications. So any business that wants to attract female talent needs to get some basics sorted. The first is language selection. Work carried out by Kat Matfield  and  Textio spells out the need to avoid male coded words like “ninja” and replace it with more female coded language. This can increase female applicants by 23%.  Men are also not put off from applying for gender neutral adverts or even female friendly ones.

Just one software tweak can increase applications in total by 25%. Instead of firing off un-targeted adverts, it clearly makes sense to put some thought into them as well as other role related documentation, such as job profiles. I even saw one male recruiter on LinkedIn referring to this as “writing like a lady.” This illustrates a need for a deeper understanding. It’s about communicating with a target market in the way that they will respond, like any other marketing strategy. Companies producing Segways would use different language marketing to teens than to seniors.

#6 Be clear about benefits that attract women upfront

If you have flex working and other benefits will women especially appreciate, publish them up front. Many women don’t like to ask for fear of repercussions. Those fears are valid. Women are routinely quizzed about their childcare arrangements even by other women. See the point about unconscious bias training.

You get more applicants because the information targets the positive factors that influence their decision to apply. You are likely also to improve the quality of any applicants because today’s top female talent has multiple choices, so that are in the upper position. There is a war for female talent.

# 7 Fish where there are fish

Broaden your network so your organisation can extend its reach. Don’t go fishing for female talent in the same narrow pool where you already know there will not be many suitable women applicants and then complain about it. This requires diverse networks.  Change your referral systems. 31% of openings are filled via network referrals.  We know that men tend to refer male candidates. Specifically target the female market and ask your male champions to refer women candidates.

#8 Promote career opportunities for women

Highlight the support you offer women. Mentoring and sponsorship programmes are key, plus a zero tolerance on sexism and sexual harassment. Show you have closed, or are closing the gender pay gap, and be clear about the potential career progression opportunities for women.

#9 Have a zero tolerance policy on sexism and harassment

It’s important that your organisation offers a psychologically secure environment for all employees. If your sector or business is male dominated it’s vital to convey that behaviour which causes discomfort is not tolerated in your company and you have pristine processes ford dealing with any issues. It’s about creating trust.

#10 Showcase female role models.

Demonstrate that women work successfully in your organisation and give profiles of role models on your career page. Publish the numbers of women who work in your organisation. These can even be added to a  job profile or at least with a hyperlink to the appropriate web page. Reference social proofing sites with positive feedback for your organisation. If you have an internal survey reference that too.

#11 Close your gender pay gap

As women become more aware of details relating to gender pay differentials  your organisation should take and publicise its strategy and concrete steps to close the gap.

# 12 Highlight leadership support and male champions

Highlight your leadership commitment to gender balance and diversity as a whole. Showcase that the men in the organisation are supportive. Many aren’t. This is particularly important to Millennials. 30% have already left a job for one with a more inclusive culture. (Deloitte Pulse 2017)

Check out 3Plus Unconscious Bias training to help create a bias conscious culture in your organisation.

Transform your culture

Changing recruitment and hiring processes to attract more women candidates is a cultural transformation project like any other. It’s a major initiative which predictably meets with pockets of resistance. Change is never easy. In some companies despite the increase in women at a junior level, they are still leaving mid-career. It’s not enough to bring women in, if once they get there the culture is stacked against them. If  you treat women well even if they do leave, encourage them to write positive comments on social proofing sites. If they are unhappy they will share that experience. Research suggests that women will share a negative experience 32 times compared to a man who will share only 3 times.

If organisations want to protect their employer brand they need to focus on the workplace experience for women, not just the hiring process and candidate experience.

 Contact 3Plus NOW to learn more about our Executive Search and Diversity Recruitment services to identify and attract high potential women to your organisation.

 Updated June 9th 2018

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.
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