Hiring more Women: Forcing the Agenda
“Our gender balance is way off, we’d like to change that, what can we do?”
We hear this a lot from hiring managers and recruiters. The word is getting around about how valuable a diverse workplace is, how much more effective a team with a variety of perspectives can be, and why we all need to pull together to make our industries more approachable for marginalised groups. One only needs to look at recent high profile ad campaigns from Reebok and Gillette, that clearly draw on feminist influences, explicitly or otherwise. Regardless of how sincere moves like this are, it points to a change in the zeitgeist.
The statistics are telling. More women than men complete tertiary education, and yet they are still massively underrepresented in STEM fields, and the gender pay gap for median hourly pay is 8.6% for full time employees.
Progress is happening, but it can often feel like it’s not happening quickly enough. It is understandable when recruiters and managers want to take on more women by prioritising them over other candidates.
So the question that naturally follows, is whether or not it’s time to really push for more women, choosing them over other candidates and supposedly bringing things up to par. Is forcing the agenda the best way forward?
The blunt hammer approach to hiring, insisting that a role should only be filled by a woman, is not particularly viable, for one fairly obvious reason. It’s against the law.
Again, the urge to simply only hire a person of a specific background, to round out demographics and shore up diversity is an understandable motivation, and it may seem like the most logical approach. But it’s not a viable approach, and isn’t really fixing the problem, it’s more like kicking it down the road. You’re not changing how your workplace operates and thus organically drawing in more women by creating a workplace they’d like to work for, you’re just temporarily moderating the numbers
The law does not allow for positive discrimination in this way, you cannot go into the hiring process with the active intent to only hire women for the role. The problem a lot of companies find themselves with is a candidate pool that only has a few women in it, especially when looking for STEM roles.
There are two specific occasions where you are allowed to exercise positive discrimination when hiring.
When the role requires someone of a specific gender (exceptionally rare)
When you have two equally qualified candidates, and one is of a group underrepresented in the company.
Otherwise, you’re going to have to put more thought into your hiring practices.
While the vast majority of women do want to see issues of sexual discrimination, gender inequality, and the wage gap addressed by their employers and other businesses, no one wants to feel like they are a statistic, hired to fill an arbitrary quota.
For the women hired in this manner, it feels patronising and insincere. If they realise what happened, they may not feel like they deserve the position, harming their personal development. Nobody wants to be the person that was hired or not hired because of a factor completely out of their control.
Many women have stories of times they were discriminated against because of their gender, and many also have stories about times they felt patronised by interviewers and hiring managers, who treated them as token add ons.
In practical terms, it also means you’re simply not hiring the best person for the job.
Helping women to feel valued and appreciated at work takes a lot more effort on your part than just hiring them arbitrarily. It takes making your business more open, more welcoming, and geared towards supporting them.
In some cases, this can mean starting from the ground up.
“There may be women more qualified who haven’t even applied to the position for a myriad of reasons. This naturally skews thing in favour of male candidates…purely by the nature of numbers”
So What Can You Do?
You’ll often hear companies talking about using a meritocratic approach, that they always hire ‘the best candidate for the job’ and that it therefore isn’t their fault that they don’t hire as many women.
The problem with this approach, at least in terms of attracting more women to your company, is that the hiring pools for a role aren’t always gender equal. There may be women more qualified who haven’t applied to the position for a myriad of reasons. This naturally skews things in favour of male candidates, even if the hiring managers want to take on more women, purely by the nature of numbers.
We’ve talked before on this blog about the simple steps you can take to increase the gender representation of your hiring pools, but the long and short of it is analysing how you advertise your positions. While you can’t specifically choose to hire women for a role, or ask that only women apply, you can advertise the position in places where more female candidates will be. As a rule, job listing boards such as Indeed tend to attract more women, but you can also get in contact with various charities devoted to getting women into your sector for support and advice.
You can also make your company a more attractive place for women to work. For example, jobs that allow for more flexible working conditions, such as remote work and flexible hours tend to attract more female candidates, since it’s more welcoming to mothers (and remember, 74.1% of mothers participate in the workforce, according to Catalyst, that’s a huge demographic of potential new hires that cannot be ignored) and other people with outside commitments. You should make sure that this way of working is an ingrained part of your company culture, otherwise it’ll be seen as a perk solely for working mothers, and they may be reticent to make use of it, for fear of damaging their reputation as workers.
You can also make sure your job descriptions are less gender biased, and use general best practice in your interviewing.
One proactive approach you can take is a legal alternative to Positive Discrimination, referred to as ‘positive action.’ You can learn more about it, and more information about your legal obligations when hiring here.
For example, if you realise that very few of your senior managers are women, you can offer a development program exclusively for women in your company to encourage them to go for management positions, and this would be protected under positive action rules. As long as you then choose the most qualified candidate, regardless of gender in the end, this is great way of supporting and attracting more and more talented candidates to your company.
It almost feels like an oxymoron to say that you need to do more than hire more women to bring more women into your company, but it’s true. The make up of a lot of old hiring practices can, quite unintentionally, be exclusionary towards women. Reevaluate your approach, consider all the angles, and keep pushing. It’ll pay off in the long term!