As touched upon in our recent blog post that posed the question ‘Where are all the women in Western tech?’, unconscious gender bias in recruitment messaging can be a huge barrier to attracting female applicants.
The notion that women aren’t suited to STEM industries (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) simply doesn’t ring true when studying the global picture, but in the UK, US, Europe and Australia, the gender imbalance is striking.
Accomplished, high-potential female talent is certainly out there (women make up half the world, remember!) so the lack of diversity doesn’t add up. However, if you’re sat there wondering why so few women submit CVs to your advertised roles, you may be shocked to learn the impact of your seemingly innocent choice of words.
On the face of it, drafting an inclusive job ad may sound like a straightforward task (just don’t say anything prejudice, simple!) but elements of unconscious bias can easily seep through, no matter how honourable your intentions.
While phrases like ‘master’, ‘manpower’ and ‘penmanship’ may sound fairly innocuous in the modern world, they do have gender-specific undertones that can resonate on a deeper level, so neutral terms such as ‘expert’, ‘workforce’ and ‘writing skills’ are preferable.
Likewise, repeated use of words that evoke a sense of masculinity, such as ‘strong’ and ‘ambitious’ can alienate female candidates, so intersperse these with alternatives like ‘determined’ and ‘enthusiastic’.
That certainly isn’t to say women can’t be strong and ambitious (in-between filing their nails and curling their hair, presumably) but frequent use of macho lingo can soon cause subconscious intimidation, so be mindful of your messaging.
Additionally, when it comes to promoting your company culture, you might want to sell yourself by stating something along the lines of:
“The guys in our London office are a great bunch who like to work hard and play hard, and we organise regular team nights out in the pub.”
Admittedly, this is quite an extreme example, but it throws up a few interesting points.
Firstly, while ‘guys’ may be considered a gender-neutral term in some quarters, its dictionary definition points to men, so try more inclusive terms such as ‘team’ or ‘crew’.
Secondly, ‘play hard’ is awfully ambiguous and ‘the pub’ has connotations with male-dominated drinking dens, so aim to be slightly more cultured if you’re serious about diverse talent attraction.
A more refined, welcoming statement might be:
“We have a wonderful team that inspires and supports each other, and we enjoy regular social events to celebrate shared success.”
You may think it prudent to outline every single qualification applicants should hold if they want to be considered for the role, but a study of Hewlett-Packard staff found long lists of criteria can deter female candidates.
Indeed, it was said women only applied for promotion if they were a 100% match, whereas men felt comfortable throwing their hat in the ring if they met 60% of requirements.
While one study may be subjective, many others indicate that lengthy bullet point checklists can put people off, regardless of gender.
Good practice would be to only ask for the core skills that can’t be learnt on-the-job. Cutting those ‘not essential, but would be advantageous’ points will encourage a broader pool of candidates.
If you offer flexible work patterns, be loud and proud in your ads, as this is likely to appeal to parents who have to factor in the school run.
Stating your commitment to diversity and equality will also reassure prospective candidates you take these issues seriously, prompting interest from all walks of life.
Another way to tackle unconscious bias would be to remove candidate names from application packs, ensuring those in charge of recruitment judge individuals on merit rather than any preconceptions about gender roles.
Addressing the gender imbalance in STEM promises to be a long battle - we need to shake off gender stereotypes at primary school level if we’re going to encourage the next generation - but there is real momentum to close the gap.
One study found that simply removing gender-focused language from job adverts led to a 42% upturn in applications, so this is an area you should immediately address if you’re failing to attract female talent.
If you’re keen to learn more, please contact us today and we can help you create a more inclusive, future-proof programme.