For some of our clients, retaining professional women is less of a struggle than attracting them in the first place. This is particularly true in fields that recruit from the academic disciplines in which women are under-represented; like the physical sciences and engineering. That’s not to excuse those who use the all-too convenient excuse: ‘women just aren’t’ interested in our field’. There’s still plenty of help for them.
Here’s three ideas of how to recruit professional women.
1. Set a realistic job specification: In discussion with a recruiter friend of mine, he expressed frustration at calling prospective female candidates. He said they explain away their qualifications for a role based on the over-optimistic person specification. He explained: ‘Women don’t seem to understand it’s just a wish-list. So I get inundated with men who have 6 of the 10 qualities, but are pretty sure they could do the other 4 if pushed. What I don’t get is women applying until they can prove they fit all 10 requirements; and that they can claim full credit for those 10! So my clients end up picking over-confident men who have some relevant experience over under-confident women who could do it all.’ His suggestion? Simplify the job description so only the bare essentials are seen as requirements. Don’t list the ‘desirable’ elements, as they are currently still perceived by too many women as requirements. What extra experience or insights people bring, above and beyond the essential, can then help them secure the actual job.
2. Go where the women are: Consistent corporate sponsors of external women’s networks, like Girl Geeks or Women in Banking and Finance, are better able to position themselves as employers who value women. Perhaps not surprisingly, research shows an organisation’s reputation for diversity is considered more important to women and candidates from diverse backgrounds, than it is to white male candidates. It’s the unofficial ‘word on the street’ that affects who applies and who doesn’t. Discrimination cases, bad press and the lack of diverse Board members all send a far louder message than a perfectly written diversity policy or any stock-photo images of women and ethnic minorities on the website. Candidates want to see evidence for how you walk your talk.
3. Play the long game: In our experience, women are less likely to pick up the phone to enquiring recruiters, particularly if they are satisfied where they are. They see speaking to recruiters as a waste of precious time unless they’d leave. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to speak to recruiters to get a sense of their external market value and then use that intelligence to negotiate pay raises at their current companies. Employers aiming to increase the number of senior female employees should view attracting the right women as a long game. One global technology firm with whom we’ve worked used recruiters to identify women from across the UK with the right core competencies they would eventually need in senior roles. The recruiters approached them, not to offer them roles, but to invite them to a series of events tailored to this group of women and hosted by the company. They were clear no jobs were on offer, but the series has been very successful in getting women to engage with a brand many previously doubted. The women expressed interest in future events, and the company has improved it’s image with this highly skilled and in-demand group, which is leading to a greater willingness to consider roles when they eventually become available.