Gender Biases In Recruiting: The Case for Considering More Women

Gender Biases In Recruiting: The Case for Considering More Women

Emily Smykal

women in the workplace dataThe U.S. labor market may be bouncing back but men and women seeking jobs across the country find themselves facing very different employment conditions. The value of women in the workplace is largely recognized, but that doesn’t mean women stand an equal chance of landing a job.

Despite declining workforce participation among men, and higher levels of post-secondary education among women, research shows that explicit and implicit discrimination against many women in the workplace still persists, including during the recruitment process.

Today’s recruitment leaders would do well to reevaluate their strategies from a gender-neutral perspective, and consider whether unperceived biases prevent them from hiring the best candidates. This post will examine the hurdles women face during the hiring process, as well as the benefits of gender equality in recruitment.

Equality is Easier Said than Done

Equality for women has come a long way, but there is still progress to be made. And that doesn’t just mean equal pay. Women face inequality and discrimination before they even get a job, despite federal laws prohibiting this unfair treatment by employers.

Despite these rules, a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found distinct biases towards female candidates. When hiring managers had to choose between an equal mix of men and women for a math-based task, both male and female managers preferred male candidates, based on their paper qualifications alone.

Those same managers did not compensate for the differences between candidates’ reported abilities and their actual talents, even though the male recruits were more likely to exaggerate their skills during interviews. And this bias still persisted when managers were given data that proved the female candidates were equally capable.

Another study of gender wording in job descriptions found that those written for male-dominated roles used more masculine wording (i.e., words that suggest male stereotypes: leader, competitive, dominant) compared to traditionally female jobs. But the prevalence of female wording (i.e., words suggesting female stereotypes: support, understand, interpersonal) did not produce the opposite effect.

Perhaps the most important finding of the study was that, when they read job descriptions with more masculine wording, female candidates found those jobs to be less appealing. Recruiters even risk becoming discriminatory when scheduling interviews, as some women who apply for jobs may have children or other care duties at home, preventing them from being available at certain times.

Finding Qualified Candidates Among Men and Women

Even though they face many obstacles when looking for jobs, more women are joining the labor force, with more qualifications. The number of women in the U.S. civilian labor force grew by 15.9% from 1992 to 2002, and 7.8% between 2002 and 2012, compared to 10.8% and 6.2%, respectively, for men.

And while overall participation in the labor force is expected to decline from 2012 to 2022, that fall is expected to be -2.6% for men and -1.7% among women. The women who remain in the workforce, and those joining recently, will certainly hope their high levels of education will help them better compete for jobs.

As of 2012, 71% of recent female high school graduates enrolled in college immediately after graduation, while just 61% of male students did the same. By 2009, female students had surpassed their male counterparts in educational attainment at all levels, including doctoral degrees. And that gap persists today.

Traditional views of men as more qualified workers may continue to skew workplace dynamics. But changing attitudes among younger workers are worth noticing. Millennial workers overwhelming describe good leaders as inspirational, strategic thinkers with good interpersonal skills. And in a recent study, women were more likely than men to describe their communication skills, professionalism, teamwork and intellectualism as strong.

The PNAS study on biases in hiring mentioned above found male candidates were more likely to boast about, and overstate, their skills in an interview. Ultimately, this could lead businesses to hire less qualified, but more confident men over more qualified women. Ignoring true qualifications and hiring the wrong person based on perceived, inaccurate traits, doesn’t just discriminate against women, but leads to bad hires overall.

Gender Equality and Successful Companies

Why should talent acquisition leaders care if their recruitment practices contain gender biases? Besides the obvious, ethical reasons to support equality, and the threat of lawsuits, businesses can see demonstrable benefits from hiring women, and fostering an egalitarian workplace.

A 2013 study among workers at 3M found that women worked longer and harder than their male colleagues, and Fortune 500 companies with more female board members or senior leaders see higher return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital.

When you consider the skills and education women bring to the table, and their numbers within the workforce, the case against gender equality in recruitment just doesn’t hold up. What the workforce needs now is more gender-neutral recruitment practices, and more successful role models, male and female, for candidates to aspire to.

Interested in learning more about what it takes to build a modern candidate experience? Check out our new “9-Point Checklist for Building a Next-Generation Candidate Experience.”

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