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Feb 4, 2021

It’s no surprise that corporate America was built by men, for men. Men are three times more likely to get an interview. For every dollar men make, women make just 82 cents. For every 100 promotions men get, women get only 72. And the stats can go on and on.

None of this is for lack of education, experience, or ambition. As of late 2019, women had officially surpassed men to become the majority of the U.S. workforce. Even more, women make up well over half of the college-educated workforce, with Black women holding more degrees than any other segment of the U.S. population.

All these numbers make it clear that female talent is out there. Organizations just don’t do a good job at finding qualified women. If that’s you, here’s what you need to know about the ways that women search for and evaluate new jobs.

Speaking Different Languages

Let’s start with how job descriptions can hinder applications from women. Harvard’s Gender Action Portal studied the impact of gendered language in job descriptions and found that women won’t apply to jobs that are written in male-oriented language because it makes them feel like they won’t belong. 

At which point you might be thinking: Well, don’t men also want to feel a sense of belonging? The answer to that question may not be as important as you think when it comes to crafting job descriptions — because men are still likely to apply for jobs written with gender-neutral or female-oriented job descriptions. In other words, male-oriented language tends to repel women, not the other way around.

Putting this in action means understanding common speech patterns between men and women. “Perceived as more communal and interpersonally oriented,” University of Waterloo finds that women ”use a more communal style of speech than men…and make more references to social and emotional words.” So including words like independent, analytical, fearless, aggressive, or adventurous in job descriptions tends to favor male applicants.

Moreover, many organizations have long considered the need for flexibility to be a women’s issue. But Fairygodboss (FGB) research found that both men and women considered flexible/remote work opportunities to be the second most important factor when considering an organization as a potential employer. And, guess what the tertiary criteria for evaluation was? Paid time off. 

Insurance provider Zurich actually tested this out in real time and found that by combining gender-neutrality with publishing flexible work options in 80% of job descriptions, they were able to achieve gender parity in new leadership hires in just one year. 

And again, those were results based on gender-neutral language. You can make the argument that female-gendered job descriptions can yield even more women applicants, without seeing declines among men.

Studies also find that women will apply to a role only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men will apply to roles in which they meet only 60% of the qualifications. This helps explain why women end up applying to 20% fewer positions than men. 

It’s been speculated that this is due to a confidence gap in which men appear to be overconfident in their own abilities (and distrust their colleagues’ abilities). Meanwhile women tend to want to work in more partner or group settings and “demonstrate less confidence in their own abilities.”

Then there’s the recent (add strange!) push for titlelessness at companies, which could be pushing women away. FGB research also reveals that women consider “title and responsibilities” to be the most important factor in evaluating a new position (after compensation). Men, on the other hand, said “clear growth trajectory” was their biggest consideration. 

Equality, Not Just Gender Equality, Matter to Women

“It is no longer enough to say you want to employ women. We have to mean it,” says Madison Butler, VP of talent, people, and culture at Sourced Craft Cocktails, “Employing women means understanding the things women care about inside and outside of the workplace. You cannot post about women’s equal pay but lack transparency within your own pay structure. Women want to work at places they feel valued and they are able to sense when companies are faking it to widen their diversity footprint.” 

Butler’s comment is especially impactful because FGB research shows that more female than male candidates are interested in a company’s efforts to support equality — notably not just related to gender but to racial and other forms of justice. a majority of those are women. Indeed, 41% of women job-seekers say that a company’s stance on racial equality is a “very important” factor in a job hunt. Comparably, only 33% of men say the same. 

Go-To Recruiting Channels Don’t Work for Women 

Companies should also re-consider the channels they use to advertise jobs. While many recruiters consider LinkedIn as a recruiting necessity, it turns out that the site isn’t even among the top three channels women use to find a job. In fact, women are more likely to turn to Indeed, personal networks or connections, and other social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to find a job. (Intersectionally, 74% of Black women and 55% of women of color said they successfully found a job on Indeed.) 

And while many organizations consider employee referrals to be an important source of talent, referral programs could be limiting your ability to hire women. FGB research found that 40% of women consider personal networks to be an impactful resource during a job hunt — however, ABC News reported that women are 26% less likely than men to ask for a referral. 

Perhaps this difference is caused by men being overconfident in their job-hunting abilities and not providing credit for their “in.” Or maybe women don’t have as many role models and sponsors in the workplace to contact. Either way, organizations should take a good, hard look at which pipelines employee referrals are building. Nevermind that women of color especially “haven’t had the parental guidance in navigating the workforce that white and male counterparts have had,” explains Kim Jones, people experience and Markets Center of Expertise leader at PwC. “With little guidance at home, many don’t have the same connections to support their job hunt in the same way men do.”

Ultimately, the question becomes: Is your company willing to do the necessary work to get through and create more equitable workplaces? 

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