How to hire to improve gender diversity in the workplace

A commitment to improving gender diversity and gender balance in your workplace is a direct investment in your company.

Diversity creates an inclusive culture and environment that not only increases employee productivity and job satisfaction but also creates innovative solutions to complex business challenges. Despite the benefits of gender diversity in the workplace, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Related: Company culture: A cultural shift in the new era of work

Women’s emotional intelligence: a boost for successful leadership 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated attitudes towards flexible working, innovation, transparent leadership, and the need for more empathetic management. 

PwC's 2017 Global CEO Survey found that CEOs rank problem-solving, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence as key important skills for their organisations. This is a shift away from traditionally masculine traits towards capabilities that are seen as more intuitively female.  

In fact, the most highly trusted companies are 1.4 times more likely to have gender diversity targets in their chief executive compensation plans, according to PwC’s 25th Annual Global CEO Survey report

An increase in women leaders

Despite all that, women are still underrepresented at every level of the corporate hierarchy, with the gap becoming more significant at senior executive levels. 

According to the Women and Work report by the World Economic Forum in 2016, women make up 46% of employees at the entry level, 37% at the managerial level, 29% at the VP level and 19% at the C-suite level. 

The good news is that there is progress in female representation in the workforce. According to the 2023 Women in Business report by Grant Thornton, the proportion of leadership roles held by females worldwide stood at 19% in 2004, the number rose to 31% in 2021, 32% in 2022, and 32.4% in 2023.

While progress seems slow, any momentum is encouraging, especially since it follows the COVID-19 pandemic, where the headcount budget took a hit for most companies during those uncertain times.

Ways to improve gender diversity in the workplace

Related: 5 ways to improve equity in the workplace

Hiring female talent is not as simple as hiring female talent

There are significant barriers that hinder female hires. For one, women tend to network with other women. Given that there are generally more men in leadership positions, women could end up with less access to mentorship and sponsorship from senior leaders. 

Also, female employees are less comfortable about sharing opinions or ideas that challenge the status quo in their organisation. And therefore, according to McKinsey & Company's Taking the Lead for Inclusion report, more women than men opted not to pursue or accept a position because they believed the organisation would not be an inclusive place to work. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, working mothers are more likely to consider leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers due to childcare responsibilities, as reported in the 2020 Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org. 

Ways to improve gender diversity in the workplace

At the end of the day, companies want to hire more women leaders. Organisations should continuously assess and reassess their best practices for gender diversity, and by extension, diversity and inclusion. 

While it begins at the recruitment level, corporations need to develop an awareness of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) and decide how to deliver diversity targets at the workplace as this would contribute to talent retention, according to Rani Nandan, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director at PageGroup APAC

Recruiters may consider excluding non-essential criteria and reference broader capability requirements to avoid disproportionate focus on professional qualifications

Though it looks like there is still a long way to go to improve gender equality and equity in the workplace, companies need to look at ways to achieve the greatest impact for a gender-inclusive workforce.

The key is to integrate DE&I policies and commitments into the business framework to bring about true cultural change. Aside from diversity programs, achieving gender diversity starts with recruitment processes, and ahead, some recruiting strategies to consider.

Related: Why recognising women in leadership and their achievements matter

Practical hiring strategies to improve gender diversity in the workplace

Ways to improve gender diversity in the workplace

1. Provide training on inclusive hiring

The impact of stereotypes and unconscious biases exist, and they can come from a man or a woman. Therefore, it is vital to actively train recruiters, hiring managers and senior leaders who participate in hiring, from those responsible for writing job descriptions, to interviewing and making hiring decisions. 

“We have a mandatory training course, which is extensive and comprehensive to educate our employees on eliminating unconscious bias when pre-screening and interviewing candidates,” shares Richa Doyle, Director at Page Personnel Singapore.

She adds, “We cover unconscious bias, finding diverse talent, creating inclusive job descriptions, inclusive shortlisting and inclusive interviewing practices. The modules give an in-depth analysis and explore different scenarios, followed by tests that require a 100% passing rate before moving on to the next module.”

To aid interviewers to reduce bias, companies could create a defined job criteria checklist, and hiring decisions should be made against this list, with any additional notes or performance ratings to be added in a separate section. 

Richa elaborates, “The interview process must be standardised, fair, and consistent. The questions we ask the candidates must be structured to be evidence-based. There is an expectation of the consultant being able to manage their personal bias.”

“We have a very systematic system of record notes from the interviews, which indicate the correct information presented by the candidate. We ensure we create the right interview environment, ask the right questions, practice active listening skills, make verbatim notes, and classify and evaluate the [feedback].” 

2. Implement a diverse interview panel with diverse interviewers

It's critical to have a diverse panel of interviewers in order to catch interviewer bias early on. If your company uses external recruiting firms, it's important to check in with them to see how they handle diverse hiring. 

At the hiring manager or talent acquisition manager level, the company could make a regulation that there should always be two hirers present at every interview. To eliminate gender bias, one interviewer could interview for technical skills, while the other could focus on behavioural ones. 

With two people accessing an interviewee, you will get different, or similar, professional opinions, which can lead to a fairer and more objective perspective on the applicant.  

Richard Barber, Associate Partner, HR & ESG Practice, at Page Executive Hong Kong, explains, “If a candidate is interviewing for a senior role, it would also be vital to have people of different ethnicities, as well as both genders, on the interview panel to create a more inclusive interview process.”

“I would like to highlight that there is nothing wrong with having one hiring manager conduct the interview. However, having gender diversity would not only foster a gender-inclusive workplace, it can also project a diversity-positive outlook for the candidate on your company, whether or not the candidate gets the role.”

3. Make job posts more inclusive 

tips to make job descriptions more inclusive

Use gender-neutral, inclusive language and balance the use of gender-charged words

While most job descriptions are generally inclusive, certain words used in job descriptions can affect job appeal for women in terms of personal skill and belongingness. Even one word can make the difference between attracting female applicants and turning them away. 

For instance, words like "dominant", "self-reliant" and "analyse" are perceived as more masculine, while words like "serves", "dependable", "collaborate" and "consider" are considered female-trait words, according to this journal

Skip the nice-to-have requirements and stick to must-haves

78% of women’s reasons for not applying, have to do with believing that the job qualifications are real requirements, according to a Harvard Business Review survey.  

“Recruiters may consider excluding non-essential criteria and reference broader capability requirements to avoid disproportionate focus on professional qualifications,” says Nandan. There can also be a reduced focus on required qualifications and experience, and more emphasis on the objectives of the role. 

You can use this free tool to help decode your job advertisement and find out if it is inclusive enough to attract more job applicants. 

Demonstrate a commitment to true inclusivity

Add a statement to show your organisation’s commitment as an Equal Opportunity Employer that expresses the company’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, providing support and reasonable adjustments to all. Nandan adds, go further by including family-friendly benefits like flexible work arrangements and parental leave.

Start a hiring conversation with Michael Page to find out how you, too, can reap the many benefits of a leading global recruitment agency.

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