5 steps towards 50:50 when recruiting

Many businesses are wondering what they can do to accelerate gender parity, especially in senior positions. Here, Chris Stappard, Managing Director of Edward Reed Recruitment, explores the ways that businesses can attract more female applicants when recruiting.

Having more women in senior roles not only creates a more equal working environment but allows you to broaden your talent pool in terms of management strategies.

According to a report issued recently by Grant Thornton International, 87% of businesses globally have at least one woman in a senior management position, but only 29% of senior roles are held by women. With the global percentage of senior roles occupied by women so low, what can businesses do to bridge the gender gap and make it an even 50:50?

Check your job adverts

You want to hire someone new, so you send out a job advert. But did you know that this first step could be creating a bias in the whole process? A study conducted by Textio in 2016 found that the language used in job advertisements had a prominent effect on the gender of the applicants.

The study found that words such as “exhaustive”, “enforcement” and “fearless” are generally more masculine in tone and therefore attract more male applicants to the role. Alternatively, words and phrases such as “transparent”, “catalyst” and “in touch with” have a more feminine tone and thus attract more female applicants. So, wording is definitely something to bear in mind if you’re trying to avoid any bias in your recruitment process.

If you’re worried about any sort of bias when shortlisting, ask applicants to avoid using their full first name in their application to help prevent prejudice associated with gender, ethnicity or social class. A study conducted by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University found that female applicants were less likely to be successful in STEM jobs based entirely on their name.

In the study, researchers sent out identical applications for a lab manager position to over 100 academics and asked them to assess the application. The only difference was that half of the applications were from ‘John’ and half were from ‘Jennifer’.

They found that the academics deemed ‘Jennifer’ less competent than ‘John’ based on exactly the same qualifications and experience.

Avoid the gender pay gap

The same study found that, of the academics who would hire ‘Jennifer’, they would pay her a salary that was, on average, 13% less than ‘John’s.

The gender pay gap has become extremely topical in recent years but is sadly still an ongoing issue that employers need to address. According to data collected by World Economic Forum, the UK is ranked 52 out of 144 when it comes to wage equality for similar work. Make sure you’re paying your staff based on their level of expertise and value to the company, and that wages are in no way affected by any form of bias.

From 2017, it became mandatory for any company or organisation with 250 employees or more to publish a report regarding their gender pay gap which is accessible to the public (GOV.UK). If potential female applicants check your report and it shows a significant pay gap, or any pay gap for that matter, they’re going to join another company who will value their skills and can offer them an equal pay.

Review your working hours

It’s important to remember that your staff, not just female but male employees too, may have other responsibilities outside of work. When it comes to children, the mother is often the first point of contact for schools, so inflexible work hours can greatly affect the work-life balance of female employees. Employers should make allowances for their female staff to manage their work around the uncompromising demands of family life.

In a study conducted by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), 36% of respondents said that flexible working hours gave them more time to spend with their families. Adjustable hours have multiple other benefits too: 38% of respondents reported feeling happier and 35% said they felt less stressed.

Broaden diversity and review your work culture

Check that your working environment is ‘female friendly’ in that it’s not overly masculine. Applicants will get a feel for your company when they attend an interview, so if the work culture doesn’t suit female workers, they can be put off.

This can usually be classified by what tends to be called a ‘bro-culture’ in which a company largely made up of male employees engage in ‘bro-behavior’ in the office: telling sexist jokes and shouting or talking over the top of each other.

This can lead to high levels of employee leave, simply because women are so unhappy in their work environment. A study conducted by Indiana University analysed the cortisol (the stress hormone) levels of women working in companies made up of 85%+ men. They found that the women had more irregular patterns of cortisol levels throughout the day. Using techniques to get rid of any suggestion of occupational stress from workload or individual personalities, they could conclude that these raised stress levels were explicitly due to their masculine work environments.

You can greatly reduce this issue by seriously cracking down on sexual harassment and generating a more welcoming and inclusive work environment. The same goes for employee perks and recreational activities: ensure that your employee benefits aren’t tailored towards a more masculine workforce and that you’re not excluding anyone in the team.

Concentrate on broadening the diversity of your workforce when it comes to other demographics such as age, sexuality and ethnicity, too. Embracing diversity and tackling all forms of discrimination within your company widens the talent pool and attracts even more diversity. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Generate a support plan

Training and support are vital to a healthy and equal work environment. Train your staff to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity for success and promotion. Support staff from a senior level but also encourage them to support each other with building their skills.

Having a team of highly skilled staff will encourage female employees to go for senior roles within the company. A business with a higher percentage of women in senior positions is more likely to attract female applicants to other jobs within the company.

We’re still a long way off from achieving gender parity in the workplace, but by altering the wording of job advertisements, offering flexible working hours and equal pay, and providing an inclusive and supportive work environment, you can attract more female applicants to any future roles. Each small change we make is a vital step towards breaking that glass ceiling.



Edward Reed Recruitment is an independent consultancy established in the North East of England.
The company is led by a highly experienced team offering a refreshingly different approach to management recruitment and talent acquisition for commerce and industry.
Find out more at edwardreed.co.uk