How to hire for gender equality

David Morel, CEO, Tiger Recruitment – a recruitment firm specialising in business support, technology, HR, hospitality and private (household and family office) roles, shares his thoughts on how to recruit with gender equality in mind.

The pandemic has impacted us all in different ways but women have been disproportionately affected. When schools and nurseries closed, they are the ones who shouldered the responsibility for childcare and home schooling. Due to these extra duties, one in three working mothers have lost work or hours, according to the Fawcett Society, while a Financial Times survey found that two in five women have taken, or are considering taking, a step back at work.

This is not only damaging for women’s careers; less women in the workplace is also bad for business. Countless studies show that gender-diverse organisations are more successful and more profitable.

So, as we emerge from the pandemic, how can businesses start to close the gender gap that has widened in the past 12 months? Focusing on workplace culture and recruitment is a good place to start.

Understand what’s going on

The first step to successful change is identifying where change is needed. Interrogating your HR and recruitment data will help you build up a picture of what is going on in your business and where gender gaps exist. Understanding who is joining the company at what level, who is leaving after how long and the reasons why, is key.

Often, the higher up an organisation you go, the fewer women you’re likely to find. That’s why talent and diversity expert Pavita Cooper, founder of More Difference, believes that businesses should be asking themselves, “Where is the point at which the glass ceiling is emerging and hitting people? Is it quite low, is it mid-career point or is it right at the very top?” The answer will indicate where you should focus your hiring efforts.

Avoid making assumptions

However, even the best-intentioned efforts will fail if they’re based on assumptions. For example, an all-male leadership team won’t be best qualified to develop effective approaches to attract women into your business. It’s almost impossible to speak for a group you aren’t part of so you need to ask that group what they need.

Whether you employ four women or forty, providing an open forum for them to share their views can help you understand the challenges they face at work. This will help you shape strategies and policies that cater to their real needs. This might include policies around flexible working, unpaid parental leave or returner programmes to ease parents back into the workplace after a career break.

Ultimately, if your business policies and culture are genuinely women-friendly, you’ll be better able to attract female candidates. 

Open up recruitment processes

Your recruitment processes can also help you improve gender equality. Where you advertise roles, how you phrase your job adverts and how your recruitment partner is representing you can make a difference.

Are the talent pools you’re searching in sufficiently broad? If you’re consistently advertising in the same places, you’re likely to get the same type of candidates applying. Think about where the people you’d like to attract might be looking for roles.

Are you using inclusive language in your job adverts? Thames Water saw a surge in female applicants for manual jobs when it removed gender-coded language from its adverts such as “confident” and “champion” and advertised for “team players” and “people who want to learn”.

And if you’re working with a recruitment partner, to what extent are they supporting your commitment to gender equality? If they don’t already provide you with diverse shortlists, ask them to do so.

Tackle unconscious bias

Whilst inclusive job adverts and searches should encourage more women to apply for roles, unconscious bias can mean that you’re unintentionally screening them out of the selection process.

Perhaps you associate a particular role with a certain gender and unwittingly make a decision based on this preconception.

Blind hiring is one way to stop unconscious bias creeping in. Your applicant tracking system can support this by removing personal details from the CVs or job applications uploaded by candidates. It can also be done manually. For example, ask a member of your team who isn’t directly involved in the hiring process to anonymise candidates’ information.

One of Tiger’s clients has even gamified part of its recruitment process to remove bias. It tests for the skills it’s looking for via an online game that candidates complete – without revealing their identity.

Demonstrate end-to-end flexibility

Taking a flexible approach to hiring can also help you attract female candidates. A rigid recruitment process – offering candidates limited time slots for interview in normal business hours only – does little to position you as a flexible employer.

Assessing candidates based on strict criteria can also be limiting. Do people really need X degree from X university and X years of experience in order to be considered for a role? If you’re too prescriptive, you may end up excluding huge swathes of potential talent from the hiring process.

Also, be open-minded when you’re reviewing CVs. Automatically discounting candidates who have ‘gappy’ career paths can be short-sighted. We know that many women have taken a step down or left their job during the pandemic in order to manage their caring responsibilities. So, be flexible and look beyond someone’s CV to understand the skills and perspective they’ll bring to your business.

Create an equal environment

Attracting women into your business is just the first, albeit vital, stage. The challenge then becomes how to ensure they want to stay and are able to succeed at the highest level. Offering genuine flexible working arrangements; enabling equal opportunities through transparent, consistent reward and performance management strategies; and providing leadership training geared towards women are just some of the steps to creating an environment where women can fulfil their potential. The pandemic may have set back gender equality, but it’s not too late to reverse the trend. The time to act is now.