We often hear HR and hiring managers say they fully support diversity efforts and are committed to hiring the best person for the job regardless of demographics, as long as they are “the right one.” person âfor the post. These professionals can be well intentioned, and we have no doubt that they believe they are advocates for gender equality. But if this is true, then why is there such slow progress in eliminating persistent gender inequalities in industry and organizations?
One thing is clear, just believing in gender inclusion does not always equate to desired results. The well-known gap between knowing and doing business helps explain why hiring managers often think they are hiring the best person for the job when in fact they are perpetuating the gender status quo. Very often, they lack the requisite knowledge and awareness of how their hiring practices are infested with unconscious biases, stereotypes and misperceptions that prevent them from seeing female candidates as the right choice.
The solution for recruiters? Improve your GQ – gender intelligence – and apply it to create transparency and accountability in employment processes.
When we say ‘we want the best person for the job’ too often that means the person I know or relate with, the person I’m most comfortable with or the person who looks like me. Instead, what if we flip the script and ask, what’s stopping the best person from applying or being selected for the job?
This type of introspection can help us discover how our daily practices and our perceptions of others can work against us. As we develop our gender intelligence, we become more aware of implicit and systemic biases, the effects of bias on employment outcomes, and how we can disrupt status quo practices to achieve the desired results.
Understanding the distinction between systemic and implicit biases is essential for developing our gender intelligence, as it tells us where to look. Systemic gender biases are found in formal and informal processes that disadvantage women. These may include network-based recruiting, gendered job posting language, and subjective or ideal job requirements and qualifications. Recognizing and understanding how a process is systematically biased leads a hiring manager to consider how the process can be biased.
Implicit or unconscious bias occurs when a person unfairly favors someone from one group or disadvantages someone from another group. Implicit gender biases include the maternity penalty, the perception of women’s lack of competence in male-type jobs, the failure to value women’s potential, the perception of women primarily as caregivers and the emphasis on unrelated personality (friendliness) or image characteristics (body or clothing). Implicit biases force us to improve our awareness of self as well as our awareness of others. In many cases, these implicit biases create blind spots in our assessments of job applicants. Sharpening our gender intelligence makes us more self-aware and more vigilant to recognize biases in the moment.
It is not a difficult task if we know what to look for and what to listen to. Daily employment processes are riddled with prejudice. Start by listening to warning phrases such as: “I’m not sure the candidate is suitable”; “His CV is really impressive”; “Looks like she’s a busy mom”; “She’s not very sympathetic,” “I’d like to see her prove that she can handle the job.”
Breaking down gender prejudices in the moment by exposing them is a clear sign of better gender intelligence. Hiring managers also need to think about how they can apply their improved gender intelligence to change recruiting practices themselves to eliminate or reduce the effect of bias.
Here are four evidence-based recommendations:
1. Be specific in writing the criteria in job offers: Research shows that women are less likely to apply for jobs that include language such as “aggressive” or “demanding.” Likewise, the use of masculine words can send the message to women that they do not “fit” for a job and should not apply. There are simple solutions to filter this language using free or commercially available text editing programs that automatically filter out gendered languages.
In addition, be realistic in the employment criteria listed in the job posting. Too often, organizations list the capabilities of the ideal candidate. While this sets the bar high, it also deters women from applying, but not men. Instead, consider listing the minimum qualifications separately from the preferred qualifications to help applicants distinguish essential from non-essential criteria.
2. Define clear, transparent and objective employment criteria that can be applied consistently: Subjective or ambiguous employment criteria are an invitation to bias. For example, be alert to ratings of âpotentialâ or âtalentâ which lack clear operational definitions and tend to be assessed subjectively and unfairly by gender. If the potential for growth or development is important in the job, make it clear which experiences are useful. Finally, beware of changes in standards or criteria. Too often, what becomes most important in hiring can be what âheâ has.
3. Diversify and increase the size of candidate pools and shortlists: Often well-meaning hiring managers will ensure that at least one woman is in the pool or shortlist. However, research shows that statistically, she has a 0% chance of being hired if she is the only woman. By adding just one more woman to the list, her odds increase dramatically. Likewise, when hiring managers in a male-dominated industry are asked to add more names to their shortlist of final candidates, the result is that more women are added to the list and hired.
4. Diversify and expand recruitment and advertising networks: Because men, especially white men, are more likely to hold positions of power and influence, they are also more likely to have more social capital. This social capital includes informal networks where formal (public) and informal (word of mouth) employment leads are shared with other men and less likely to be shared with women. Men proactively reaching out to female colleagues and women in their networks to let them know they would be great candidates, and to socialize this information with other women, can help overcome network differences.
Ultimately, the impact of making better hires reflects positively on the hiring manager and can lead to better career outcomes. Equally important, as they improve their gender intelligence, these hiring managers become better leaders and colleagues. Additionally, hiring managers who successfully implement these actions are more than helping their businesses meet Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DCI) goals. They also make their business more successful and profitable and strengthen their company’s reputation as a highly desirable place to work where diverse and talented people are valued.
W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith are the co-authors of âGood Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplaceâ (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020) and Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women â, Harvard Business Review Press, 2019).
Johnson is Professor of Psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy and Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Johns Hopkins University. Smith is Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
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