9 tips to address gender bias in the recruitment process
By Sharon Peake, Shape Talent Founder & CEO
Gender biases are often unknowingly embedded within recruitment practices, from job design through to selection. Outdated work norms can perpetuate practices ripe for change and inadvertently reinforce unhelpful gender stereotypes. In this article I explore how organisations can recognise and address these biases to enable a more balanced talent pipeline.
Shape Talent’s Three Barriers research outlines the social, personal and organisational factors that contribute to gender inequality1. By identifying where the barriers exist in your organisation you can take steps to reduce these. But pinpointing them isn’t always easy.
Listed below are some of the places we often see bias emerging, along with tips on how to intercept gender bias.
1. Job design
If we cast our minds back in time, a generation or two ago the household looked very different to how it looks now. The average (heterosexual) household was a family with 2.3 kids, where mum stayed home, raised the family and looked after the household and dad was the breadwinner. Work was organised accordingly into full-time Monday to Friday office-based roles. This division of labour also meant that roles, in particular managerial roles, were full-time as it was assumed that supervision of output was required.
Of course, society and the world of work has evolved and technological advances open up different options. Almost three quarters of mothers now work (and want to work), and are much more likely than men to work part-time. The pandemic has proven that work can be done more flexibly, in terms of both where and when work is performed. It’s time to update job design to reflect the modern workforce, and to be more inclusive to all genders.
Tips to design jobs to encourage gender equality
- Full-time managerial roles are still the default, locking many mothers out. Actively encourage leadership roles to be done part-time, flexibly and via job share by focusing job design on the critical outputs required, rather than unnecessarily long list of requirements.
- Build flexibility into job design as a default. By offering employees control over when and where they work, organisations can reduce work–family conflict, because employees can restructure work around family demands as needed. Job flexibility affords many families the ability to have two parents working while also managing care and household responsibilities.
For some of our clients in STEM industries, balanced candidate slates are difficult to achieve as the pipeline of women graduates into occupations such as engineering, IT and manufacturing is imbalanced to start with. Add in the fact that unnecessarily long lists of requirements are more likely to deter women, and that the intersections of race, disability, sexual orientation and age – amongst other factors – add to the burden that women and minority genders face.
Trans women, women of marginalised ethnicities and women with a disability, for example, face even more barriers and bias in recruitment processes than their cis, white, non-disabled counterparts. It is therefore particularly important to design and deploy an employee value proposition (EVP) that is attractive and inclusive to women across all intersections as a basis for attracting a diverse pool of talent.
Tips to attract more women candidates
- Think long term. A focus on attracting as many women as possible in early career roles will help open the pipeline for later succession. For sectors with a scarcity of women, targeted awareness-raising initiatives – as early as primary and secondary school and through to tertiary levels – can be a powerful way to counter gender stereotypes and help attract women into traditionally male-dominated jobs and industries.
- Adopt a gender purposeful approach to recruitment campaigns including targeted channels, language, and imagery.
- Scrutinise the job advert to ensure that requirements, language and benefits will attract the widest pool of talent from all genders and intersections. Strip out any nice-to-have requirements that aren’t essential to the job, to help broaden the funnel of candidates.
Unconscious gender bias is a recognised issue in the recruitment process. A study involving 858 adults who were asked to create a verbal shortlist for a new role advertisement revealed that initial shortlisting can favour male candidates. An extended shortlist following the initial informal shortlist provided on average 33% more women in the list of potential candidates2.
Organisations can actively and continuously mitigate gender bias in the selection process by intentionality around shortlisting and by ensuring a robust selection process.
Tips to avoid bias in your selection practices
- Hire in batches. The representativeness heuristic predicts that when a candidate pool is dominated by certain demographics, the underrepresented candidates are significantly less likely to succeed. One way to overcome this is by batch hiring, with more roles and more candidates. We are known to make more diverse decisions, when there is more than one woman on the candidate slate.
- Standardise the interview process. Review questions and format, train hiring managers. Ensure a diversity of panel members, strong interviewing skills and bias mitigation competencies. Consider the key intersections subject to greater discrimination and how to actively mitigate the risk.
Ever start a new role and not feel welcome? A solid, inclusive onboarding experience is critical to employee engagement, retention and productivity.
Just 12% of employees believe their employer’s onboarding experience is adequate or successful, and yet employees who had effective onboarding feel up to 18x more commitment to their workplace3.
Tips for providing a gender inclusive onboarding experience
- Tell the story from different perspectives. Onboarding programmes that move beyond just featuring some key senior roles and include diverse stories and perspectives of what it is like to work here (as a human) are key to ensure women and intersectional diverse identities have aspirational role models to sustain them through the transition that is starting in a new company.
- Women often receive less briefing on strategy and expectations around the company structure, strategy and job responsibilities. A manager’s onboarding checklist should include being detailed and specific around “how things are done around here” as well as the company vision, structure and strategy.
Keep an eye out for our next blog in this series, which will explore the biases that exist within your organisational policies on reward, promotion, development, talent identification and performance management.
If you’re serious about disrupting bias in your organisation then take a look at our new Three Barriers Debias Audit, where we review your processes, policies and culture across 11 aspects of the talent management lifecycle. Our thorough audit leaves you with a clear sense of areas for focus and accompanying recommendations.
Sharon Peake is the founder and CEO of Shape Talent Ltd, the award-winning diversity, equity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality – and what it can achieve for their business.
Click here to learn more about Shape Talent and join our mailing list to be the first to receive our tools, research and updates.
And be sure to follow us on social media:
1 Kossek EE, Lautsch BA, Eaton SC (2006) Telecommuting, control, and boundary management: Correlates of policy use and practice, job control, and work–family effectiveness. Journal of Vocational Behavior 68(2): 347–367.
2 Lucas, B.J., Giurge, L.M., Berry, Z., Chugh, D, (2021) To Reduce Gender Bias in Hiring, Make Your Shortlist Longer, Harvard Business Review