funnel to hire more women

Recently, I was discussing gender diversity with a friend in the analytics industry. His organisation certainly doesn’t have anywhere near gender equality, but he vehemently argues that they are “doing everything they can” to hire women, and it’s a “funnel problem”, with only 3% of the candidates who apply being female.

With all due respect to my friend (and we had a long discussion about this!) this is a complete cop-out. This argument suggests that organisations are only responsible for gender diversity as long as candidates are magically delivered to their doorstep. That’s not a commitment to diversity – that’s only agreeing to not discriminate when hiring candidates. Actual commitment to diversity includes expending effort in an attempt to find, hire, train and retain a great, diverse workforce. It involves understanding the various societal reasons why women may only constitute 3% of your funnel, and actively trying to seek out candidates, not to mention changing the funnel for the future. 

There are things that we can do, at every single step of the funnel to increase conversion rate (aka hire more women). Here’s a few practical examples that came to my mind.

Stage 1. Starting school

Ask about what young girls are learning.

We still treat little boys and girls differently – we often default to telling girls they are pretty or cute and boys they are strong. Break out of this pattern by instead inquiring what kids are learning. Ask kids what excites them in school, truly listen to their responses, and ask questions that illustrate a genuine interest in the content. This encourages them to explore what matters. If you need tips this great article outlines how to talk to young girls.

Choose the right stories to give girls role models.

Tell girls a story about a cool woman you know who is in the space of tech, science or maths. Use movies like Hidden Figures to help these young girls discover role models they can aspire to be like. Choose the stories you read carefully so you can avoid fairy tales full of messages about girls needing to be saved.

Stage 2. In higher education

Encourage women in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM subjects).

I was the only woman in my physics class. It was intimidating. Encourage the young women you know to pursue more technical classes and then, most of all, make them feel welcome.  Establish connections so they can have allies as they navigate intellectual concepts and have a friendly face to ask questions of.

Start a scholarship.

Get your company to sponsor a young woman in a technical field you are looking to recruit from. This is a way to sift through up-and-coming talent to foster the best of the best (plus you’ll have a relationship to work with once you do want to recruit them).

Hire interns.

Consider hiring interns who are still studying so women can see practically how their learnings to can lead to a future rewarding role. This is a key way you can wider your funnel, as above, you will have also built strong relationships and have your pick of the best of the best.

Stage 3. Entering the workforce

Be a mentor, or even better, be a sponsor.

While mentorship is a powerful way to engage women in technical fields, sponsorship introduces a new type of relationship. This means being a voice to upcoming women in your industry. Having someone in the room to call through unconscious bias is a key way you can widen the funnel.

Promote your opportunities at women’s meetups.

There are plenty of incredible meetups full of brilliant, technical women. Head to a womenintech event, girlgeek dinner, women in digital, or women who code networking event to promote your jobs and opportunities to women directly. You will have a captive audience of women with a variety of relevant skills.

Stage 4. Getting through the application

Write the right description.

We heard the stat in Lean In that many women will only apply for a job when they meet 100% of a job description, while men will apply when they met 60%. This stat is refuted in this article. I can tell you anecdotally this has been true for many women I know as well as myself. Regardless of the stat, you can combat an issue that may be preventing women from applying by crafting your job description to cater for this potential snag. Instead of listing the five or six requirements, list five or six skills preferred skills or ask an applicant to demonstrate a strong ability in three or four of the five skills.

Promote flexible work opportunities.

Women largely are still responsible for the primary caregiving duties. Promote flexible work, as this is a key component many women consider when making decisions about where to work. Flexibility is a key differentiator for technical jobs, so emphasize this aspect where relevant. This is a critical component in widening the funnel.

Consider part time.

Australian women have some of the highest part-time rates in the world. Many jobs can be fulfilled via a part time staff member or two employees job sharing (aka two days a week for one person and three days a week for the other). Acknowledging you are open to these arrangements for the right candidate is a key way to increase the number of women who may apply.

Call out that diversity is important to your company.

When writing a job ad, include a statement about how you are promoting diversity in your workforce. This is a sign to a candidate that you are aware of unconscious bias and the societal differences and you are taking steps at your company to actively increase diversity.

Reach out to suitable female candidates on LinkedIn.

This suggestion actually came to me from my friend who has been having difficulties hiring more women. He mentioned he has been scanning through resumes and actively contacting women who would be a good fit.

Stage 5. At work

Create a team with female leaders.

More women in leadership roles means an easier time recruiting women. For many women who work at THE ICONIC, a primary reason for selecting the company is that more than 50% of our executive team are women (and not because it’s a fashion company – our CTO, CFO and COO are all women). Women in leadership roles is a sign to others that they will be welcomed as contributors because the company already sees the importance of diversity. It means she has someone to look up to which ultimately allows for internal mentorship. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Embrace parental leave.

Yes, women look at company’s parental leave policies when considering employers. It is important to acknowledge how tough being pregnant is, how hard it is to adjust to being a new mom (natural or adopted), or how a woman’s decisions regarding breastfeeding can be impacted by a return to work. Start with setting up women for success as they go through pregnancy (it’s exhausting!). Then set conditions that means a woman isn’t rushing back to work a week or two after becoming a new mom. Even better, have parental leave which extends to the father as well. This allows the family that work for you greater flexibility.

Stop the meritocracy.

Many companies believe they have a meritocracy and because of this, they don’t have to aspire to have greater diversity because the best, most qualified person gets the job. The problem is that meritocracy is based on the principle we all start and get to the same point equally. We don’t. There are numerous articles which talk about how the principle of meritocracy or merit leads to greater inequality (whether it be in regards to gender in the workplace or social inequality). One US study shows that in organisations which rely on a meritocracy for performance reviews or promotions, men are more likely to advanced or have their pay increased versus women with the same rating (another study supports these findings). In fact, organisations that boast of a merit based system, often result in more gender or racial stereotypes. Until we debunk the underlying social biases, we must be willing to supplement traditional power structures with deliberate measures.

Encourage women to stay.

Lean In raises the concept of how women will ‘leave before they leave’. By this, Sheryl Sandberg means that women often bow out from projects, promotions or career aspirations assuming one day in future they will be a mother. This means they are making decisions to pull back from opportunities long before they even become a parent, assuming in the future those extra duties won’t be compatible with being a mom. Many women don’t even realise they are doing this. Encourage women to stretch themselves with leadership, projects and new opportunities. Buy the office a copy of Lean In, like I did with a friend of mine, who nearly went down that path. Once they do become a mom, you already have the culture set up to best support them via flexible work. Sheryl has also published a recent interview about how many companies assume women want to pull back when they do reach the stage of their life where they become a parent – her simple advice is to ask these women rather than making assumptions.

Stage 6. Beyond work

Do the housework.

Given the stats in the recent 2016 census, I’ve written previously about the need to support women by doing the fair share of housework. So I won’t go into that here.

Be an ally.

Call things out. Whether it’s in your personal life or at work, be an ally like Andy Murray. Correct opinions which are intended as facts. Unconscious bias only persists as long as people don’t call it out. Arm yourself with data and references to challenge key assumptions people make.

I am sure there are many more ways to widen the funnel of women applying for jobs at your company. Here are just a few. My intent here is demonstrate that a commitment to diversity means taking actual, concerted steps to improve diversity rather than relying solely on the applications that are sent to your company. There are things each and everyone of us can do.

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