Iesha Small

writing, career pivots, side hustles

Build you career like an entrepreneur.

How to get women to apply for your senior job

Women at work deciding something important, from

One sentence in a job advert about valuing diversity is below minimum effort to ensure more women apply for senior jobs, especially if all the other company signals are smelly.  

A surprising job advert

Recently, I noticed an unusual job advert.

It began with a job description before explaining who we are, why work here and what we can offer you, crucially, the salary was clearly stated. So far, so standard. Although the tone of the advert suggested that the organisation understood recruitment is a two-way process with the candidate needing to actively choose the company as well as the other way around.

Then in the how to apply section I read,

“Candidates are encouraged to apply even if your experience doesn’t precisely match the job description for this role. Your experience, skills and passion will set you apart so tell us about your achievements, irrespective of whether they are personal or work-related, about your journey to date; how this has shaped you and the things you learnt along the way.” – Director of Strategy, Research and Impact Job Advert, UK Youth

I got excited about the wording of the advert because it tackled one of the barriers to women applying for senior roles, feeling they are not qualified enough or lack the stated experience. A widely cited report from Hewlett Packard suggests that women are more likely than men not to apply for a job if they feel they don’t meet the stated qualifications for a role (21.6% vs 12.7%). Women are also more likely to follow the guidelines for who should apply and then rule themselves out of applying for a role than men (15.0% vs 8.5%).

We actively encourage… blah, blah, blah

Commonly, when companies want to encourage applications from candidates from a wide range of backgrounds they present a standard job advert and at the end there is a final sentence which reads similar to:

“Company X is committed to creating a diverse workforce and we actively encourage applications from candidates irrespective or race, gender, sexual orientation or taste in cereal.”

I often quietly laugh at these statements -I have weird sense of humour, leave me alone- because beside adding an extra sentence to their job advert, it isn’t entirely clear what Company X has done differently from usual. How exactly has Company X “actively” encouraged applications from previously and historically underrepresented groups? Have they changed the design or wording of the application form or job advert? Have they adjusted the method or channel of recruitment? Has company X really taken time to understand exactly what it is that makes members of underrepresented groups, who would be able to do the role in question, less likely to apply? Have they removed or explicitly addressed those barriers?

Company signals are stopping applications

Companies repeatedly outline their extreme desire to recruit a diverse workforce at the bottom of their standard adverts that have been historically successful in attracting a more homogenous section of the working population. Periodically, when asked about some aspect of workplace diversity, people in charge of recruitment might reply

“We’d love to hire more [insert group here] but they never apply.”

Job candidates (internal and external) pay attention to what companies do, as well as what they say or write in adverts. Potential candidates look at other signifiers of the workplace culture of an organisation. Research by Harvard Business Review outlines the following signals that people from (one or more) underrepresented groups look at when deciding if a workplace culture is one that they can thrive in:

  • The number of women and people of colour in leadership roles
  • Job adverts where descriptors are too narrow
  • Imagery in job posts that is associated with men
  • Opportunities for growth, development and mentorship

Companies that are serious about wanting women and people from other represented groups to apply for senior roles need to understand what signals they may be sending out which are currently stopping that from happening. Then the signals need to be changed so that it’s clear that their company is a place where people from all backgrounds can thrive at all levels

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If you are interested in the human side of leadership then buy my book The Unexpected Leader.


How to get women to apply for your senior job