3 key ways to attract more female candidates

Women are underrepresented in many areas of the Australian employment landscape. Information Communication and Technology (ICT) is one of the industries that struggle to gain representation of women at all levels within organisations.

Peoplebank, Australia’s largest on-hire ICT recruitment firm, states that in calendar 2014,  27% of its contractor placements were female.

Peoplebank also states that many of its clients are struggling to hit targets set to bridge the gender imbalance. One of its customers in the banking sector has imposed a policy that hiring managers cannot offer a role to a male applicant if they have not interviewed at least one female applicant.

The challenge of attracting female applicants to historically male-dominated industries is not limited to Australia, or the ICT industry, it spreads much further. Most organisations around the globe have recognised that they need to change in order to attract and retain female talent.

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But how?

Engagement programs like flexibility to allow for family friendly working hours have gone a long way to making a company more attractive to female candidates. However, that’s when they click the Apply Now button on a job ad.

The Apply Now button is not always clicked, let alone seen by many female applicants. Many will read and then believe, mainly subconsciously, that they are not suitable for the role and rule themselves out of applying for the role.

Why does this happen? Language is to blame. No, not foul language but something much worse. It is subtle plain English words that stop women reading as they self-disqualify their eligibility for the role. What are these words?

Gendered language is the reason that so many women do not apply for roles. Research shows that there is no impact on the likelihood of a male applying for a role, however, female candidates are dissuaded from applying for job ads that use masculine language.

Masculine coded phrase                                   Feminine coded phrase
Superior ability to satisfy customersSensitive to the customer’s needs can develop warm customer relationships
Strong communication and influencing skillsProficient oral and written communication skills

The two above ‘masculine coded’ phrases are commonly used in many job ads which will dissuade female applicants.

The research study highlights that women felt the job ads with masculine terms were less appealing and also felt that they belonged less in that role. Whereas feminine-coded job ads produced a sense of inclusiveness and belonging and therefore saw an increase in the probability of a female applying for the role. It’s worth reinforcing that men will apply for the role no matter the gender coding, so you are not losing any potential candidates by using feminine-coded text – only gaining potential of more female applicants. 

Stemming from this research is a “Gender decoder for job ads”. You can copy and paste text into this decoder and it will highlight if your ad is gender neutral, masculine or feminine.

It’s a great tool to gain an understanding of how your job ad is working for, or against you attracting all available candidates.

Likewise, research by McKinsey* shows that women will not apply for roles unless they meet 100% of the criteria listed in the job ad, whereas male applicants will apply meeting only 60% of the requirements.

  1. Write job ads using feminine language. The research shows women are far more likely to apply when a job ad is written with feminine language
  2. Make sure that the job description is also written with female gendered language – the same rules apply as the job ad
  3. Ensure that the criteria listed are 100% essential to be advertised. Most female applicants will not apply unless they meet 100% of the writers.

Of course, organisations need to rethink their hiring processes such as emphasising skills and capabilities, rather than time served at a particular company, but that’s a whole other article.

In the meantime, get in touch with your feminine side and make your ads attractive to both genders by ensuring they are femininely coded.