Women Are Shifting the Talent Landscape: Strategies to Successfully Recruiting Them

Apr 25, 2011

Women have become the new workforce. There are now slightly more women workers than men, given the recession and the shrinking of the manufacturing and construction industries. They have less unemployment: In January of this year the unemployment rate for men was 8.8 percent, yet for women only 7.9 percent.

Additionally, women account for 51 percent of all workers in high-paying management, professional, and related occupations. There are now more women in management positions than men for the first time in American history, and it isn’t stopping anytime soon. Women are projected to account for 51.2 percent of the increase in total labor force growth by 2018. And, these are not exclusively American trends — they are also trends in Europe and many Asian countries.

More women are attending and graduating from universities. Men make up only 40% of the students in American universities while women are closing in on two-thirds of the university population and receive the majority of college degrees. No one is exactly sure why this is happening but we do know that boys are diagnosed more often with learning disabilities and are more likely to be expelled or incarcerated. Or it may be that men are disengaged and uncomfortable with traditional teaching methods. They often feel able to go off on their own, start a business, or just hang out with friends.

So what does all of this mean for your organization and recruiting?

Obviously there will be a growing number of well-educated women entering the workforce. A wise strategy would be one that began to actively seek them out, engage them in learning more about your organization, and provide them with enticements that are geared to their needs.

Most of our recruiting efforts are traditional, and that generally means weighted in favor of men. We assume that most employees are willing to work a “normal” 8-hour day and a “normal” 40-hour work week. We assume they want bonuses and blocks of vacation time. And we assume they are willing to play the political games that are frequently needed to get ahead. These include those beers after work with the boss, talking sports, cars, and participating in events after work.

All of these may not be good assumptions if you want to stay competitive and get the best and most educated people available.

Here are a few things to consider: 

It’s just good business strategy to hire women. With women becoming the majority of the workforce, it is just common sense to find better ways to attract and engage them. More and more startups are now led by women and more are moving into the ranks of senior leadership.

A number of organizations including HP and IBM have designed specific strategies to attract women. One organization, Cigna, has invested 2 million dollars to recruit and develop executive-level women. Pepperdine University found that the Fortune 500 companies with the best record of promoting women outperformed their competitors by anywhere from 41 to 116 percent.

And, a recent study by Catalyst shows that companies with the highest representation of women in their senior leadership had better financial performance as a group than those with the lowest number of women. Yet, women only account for 14% of the boards of Fortune 500 in the U.S. France and other European countries have now mandated that boards will be 40% female.

Are you finding the women you already have? Many recruiters and hiring managers are not actively seeking out the women already working in their organizations. Internal hiring and development of women are cornerstones of improving your brand image. Each recruiter should focus on making sure that a diverse slate of candidates that includes current female employees whenever possible is presented to hiring managers.

By making it a policy to help women move up and across the organization you can enhance your brand image and consequently your ability to attract more women.

You need to make sure your brand is friendly to women. Very few organizations take the time to examine their brand messaging to see how it appeals or doesn’t appeal to men and women. Women often feel undervalued, unappreciated, and underserved by recruiters and organizations. There is a subtle expectation that they should react to things and have the same approaches as men do to situations and events.

It is very important to think about the overt and covert messages that come through when someone thinks about your brand. Messages that may appeal more to women than men are those offering flexible work time or that talk about a friendly and collaborative workplace. Socially responsible organizations are also important to many women. Imaging needs to show women in a variety of roles and testimonials and interviews with women showcase what you are doing. Women need to see and hear that their work will be rewarded and appreciated and that the expectations are not less for them than they are for men.

You should relook at all your HR policies and practices. Numerous surveys show that women are looking for very different benefits than men. Some of the specific things they are looking for include job sharing, part-time telecommuting, flexible business hours, and paid and unpaid work interruptions for child care and elder care.

Women are also looking for non-hierarchical organizations with a reputation for collaborative decision-making. If your organization, like so many, has a lot of men at the top this may be a problem. But often lower down there are women managers and women-led teams that offer that collaborative environment. Every recruiter should understand how women contribute to their organization and what roles may be most attractive.

Ignoring women, thinking they are the same as men, assuming we all want to same things are very dangerous practices. Beginning to tailor your strategies and tactics to the dominant workforce makes good sense to me.

(Stats are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics unless indicated otherwise.)

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