The importance of gender neutral recruitment

The importance of gender neutral recruitment
The importance of gender neutral recruitment

Maximising a diverse workforce is not only a social imperative but provides businesses with a competitive advantage. Forbes have shown that there’s evidence of a direct correlation between Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), business performance and innovation. But how can you ensure you’re hiring without being influenced by unconscious biases?

Diversity and inclusion are key

A 2020 report by McKinsey, a leading global management consulting firm, found that “companies in the top quartile of gender diversity…were 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability”. It also highlighted the positive impact of female leaders, with those companies who have 30% female representation on leadership teams more likely to outperform those with 10-20%. However whilst the business case for DEI continues to grow, lots of companies are failing to live up to their own promises and targets (CNBC, Apple, Google and others are struggling with diversity).

Within DEI, a key area of focus continues to be gender diversity, with women underrepresented at every level of the corporate hierarchy and outnumbered by men 2:1 in positions of authority (Fawcett Society, Sex and Power 2022). A study by PWC confirms that the playing field is far from equal, with 20% of women saying they felt employers favour male candidates and have at some point experienced gender discrimination during the hiring process.

A key step clients can take is diversifying their interview panels.

Ed O'Connell, Managing Director, Search Professional Services 

Gender bias not only has the potential to limit a company’s performance and brand identity but can significantly inhibit its ability to attract top talent.

Search spoke to Ed O’Connell, Managing Director for Professional Services, on the state of play and how companies can promote inclusion and attract diverse talent:

Although we have seen a shift in inclusive hiring practices, there’s still more that can be done. Unfortunately, many employers still allow inherent biases to influence their hiring decisions which means that some great candidates can be overlooked. A key step clients can take in addressing this is diversifying their interview panels. Different perspectives encourage us to think more broadly, allowing the team to see past their unconscious biases.

Ed O'Connell, Managing Director, Search Professional Services

Use gender neutral language in job descriptions

A study conducted by Total Jobs illustrated how the language of job descriptions and adverts potentially impacts diversity. 76,929 job ads were analysed over six weeks to evaluate how often gender-coded words were used. Within these 77,000 job adverts, we found 478,175 words which carry gender bias. This is an average of six male-coded or female-coded words per job advert”. Gendered word analysis was based on academic findings from The University of Waterloo and Duke University who worked to define a series of words which had social and cultural weight towards a specific gender.

The language used in a job description is therefore incredibly important. Superlatives that are seen as male-orientated, such as ‘superior’, ‘competitive’ and ‘world-class’, can inadvertently discourage women from applying. Research shows that women are unlikely to apply for a position unless they meet 100% of the criteria whilst men will apply if they meet 60% (HBR, Why women don’t apply for jobs). Using more gender neutral words, including using they/them pronouns as opposed to he or she, can help to create a more inclusive job description.

Actively training all employees involved in the recruitment process, including those who define the job descriptions, shortlist applicants, interview, and make the final decision, helps to embed diversity into the hiring process.

At interview ask questions on various skillsets

According to McKinsey there are up to 56 skills that will help us all thrive in the future of work. It’s unrealistic to expect any candidate to possess all of these skills; but identifying and focusing on the skills a candidate does have can help in being gender neutral when interviewing prospective employees.

To ensure a range of skillsets are considered during the interview, questions should reflect a variety of skills-based questions. These can include communication, emotional intelligence, and creativity, alongside those which could be regarded as predominantly male. In their paper ‘Negotiating Gender Roles’, Emily T. Amanatullah and Michael W. Morris, of Harvard Kennedy School, surmised that males report higher frequencies of assertive behaviour than females. The more inclusive the questions, the easier it is to refrain from gender bias.

Unconscious bias training helps to expose employees to their implicit biases. It’s particularly helpful in raising awareness of the mental shortcuts we may take unknowingly, which often lead to snap judgements. Training can adjust our thinking patterns, ultimately eliminating discriminatory behaviour.

Holly Harwood, Talent Development Manager, Search

Incorporating gender neutral hiring into your business practices

From our research and after consulting various Search experts, one thing remains clear: employers need to do more to promote gender neutral recruitment. Companies must take a deeper look at leadership teams, processes and recruitment practices in order to succeed in truly enabling gender inclusivity. According to PWC, 71% of employers who said they’d adopted gender diversity practices said they had seen a positive impact on their recruitment efforts.

As a business, it’s vital you hire the best people for every role you fill. The last thing you want to do is miss out on people because of unconscious or implicit bias in your hiring practices. Gender neutral recruitment is one step you can take towards ensuring this doesn’t happen.

So, how else can organisations make their recruiting process more gender-inclusive? By keeping the hiring process gender neutral...

Internal training

Internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training for all employees is essential, especially when promoting inclusive hiring and building a culture of transparency.