How to hire more women?
March 28, 2016 6:16 AM   Subscribe

I have a business in the IT service industry and there’s a gender imbalance in my staff, which I want to address.

I’m planning to open two administrative and technical-sales positions in the coming weeks and would like to hire women. Even though there are no anti-discrimination laws in my country which prohibit such ads (that, or they've never been challenged in court), I could but don't want to write something like ‘only women need apply’.

However, for jobs that I've posted before, the ratio of women to men applications was dismal. I recently had 8 female applications for over 120 male ones for a recent post as Accountant. In an environment where writing things like Equal Opportunity Employer won’t mean much to readers, how do I frame the job posting so that women feel strongly encouraged to apply?

For some perspective on the issue, see this link.
posted by Kwadeng to Work & Money (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What if you put the ad as, "seeking female tech professionals" or similar language?

Are there any universities you could approach, who have female tech students?

Your article link made me cringe a little. Women are "timid" seeking jobs because of socialization, but also because it's implicit that they will be judged more harshly than the male applicants.
posted by zennie at 6:33 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

If the women applicants aren't coming to you and you want to change that I think you need to proactively change the pool of people coming to you. For example, are there any local "women in IT" groups that you could proactively inform about the existence of these job opportunities?
posted by mmascolino at 6:34 AM on March 28, 2016 [15 favorites]

Simple, only post the job at women's colleges or societies, etc.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:35 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Where do women look for for work in your country? Are there any women's technical support groups? Are there web sites that have more women on them? My best searches have come from when I've done the work to bring the job applications to the people I'm trying to reach.

I also tend to hit social media pretty hard looking for that diversity. I don't sell it as I'm only going to hire women as much as I say that I'm trying to do my best to diversify my team.

Though, to be honest, my last hire came from metafilter jobs.
posted by advicepig at 6:35 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

OK, first-off, you're likely going to get more female applications for these jobs just because admin and sales are less male-dominated fields than accountancy, at least in my experience.

Second: if you get eight applications from women, could you treat those applications like they're the only applications (unless they're all seriously unqualified)? There's no rule that says you have to look at all the applications from the men. If hiring women is an important business goal for you, go ahead and consider all the women's applications before you move on to the men. (Also, women tend to only apply for jobs that they feel they are highly qualified for, while many men will take a more scattershot approach to job applications; the women's applications may actually be among the most qualified.)

Put language like "women strongly encouraged to apply" in the ad (this is very common in the US).

Advertise in places where women are: either IRL or online. This could be professional women's groups, or whatever.

Actively recruit specific women (this is more feasible for mid-career and high-level positions) - find women who you want to work with and ask them to apply.

If you have family-friendly or work-life-balance-friendly benefits/features of your organization or the job, advertise those. On-site childcare? Put that in the ad!

I don't think just framing the job description will make much difference; recruiting women needs to be an active process.

I'm a woman in a tech field and these are things that I've seen people try in order to hire women.
posted by mskyle at 6:37 AM on March 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

You may find the following to be illuminating:

"Diversity for Sale" by Julie Pagano
Hire More Women in Tech
HOWTO recruit and retain women in tech workplaces (from the Geek Feminism Wiki)
posted by zebra at 6:57 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

People have already given you some great ideas! In my city there are a lot of organizations and meetup groups geared toward women in STEM professions. Do a search and reach out to the organizers of such groups to see if you can attend and pitch yourself or perhaps post on a job board or mailing list that these women see. I also recommend reaching out to your network on LinkedIn and asking key technical women that you know for references and referrals.

Wording also matters. There's some research to suggest women don't respond to ads with certain language that suggests an environment hostile to their contributions. Check this out for more details.

I'm a female software engineer on the only gender-balanced team I have ever worked on. It makes a huge difference to my quality of life and sense that I belong. Thank you for caring about this issue and making an effort to correct it.
posted by araisingirl at 7:04 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I could but don't want to write something like ‘only women need apply’.

Could you write something like 'Company interested in a balanced workforce. Women particularly encouraged to apply.'

I haven't thought this through thoroughly, and I'm not 100% sure how appealing something like that would be. However, I thought it was worth considering.
posted by amtho at 7:05 AM on March 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oh, the traditional forums are going to appeal to the candidates already in the industry, the ones that make it so unbalanced.

Seconding what others have mentioned, you will have to go to women's colleges, meetups geared towards women, women professionals that you know about and that can link you up with female candidates for your position.

The excuse of "only white guys apply" is weak precisely because of this: if you go to places where said protected group congregates, you will get applications from members of that protected group.
posted by kadmilos at 7:28 AM on March 28, 2016

Perhaps get the word out among your staff. "Guys, it's a real sausage-fest in here, I'd love to see if we can attract more women to help us balance this out. There's a $500 referral bonus for folks to fill these vacancies, know anyone?"

I participate in on-line and local user-groups and I see shout outs for jobs there all the time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:42 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

All of our job advertisements include the disclaimer:

XXX is committed to building a skilled, diverse workforce reflective of Canadian society. As a result, we promote employment equity and encourage candidates to indicate voluntarily on their application if they are a woman, an Aboriginal person, a person with a disability or a member of a visible minority group.

Bonus, it weeds out people that DON'T want to work in that kind of atmosphere.
posted by saucysault at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

Consider the level of the position as well. The applicant pool will skew more heavily female for entry to mid-level positions. There is nothing wrong with a strategy of growing your own talent to diversify your workforce so long as you are committed for the long term and you have appropriate mentorship in place to help women, people with disabilities, etc succeed.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:02 AM on March 28, 2016

Also, if you want to attract women, include benefits such as extended maternity leave, proper vacation and sick time allotments, and flex/tele-work options as part of the package and advertise them.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:04 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

A few of the 'stronger' options suggested here may be illegal in some jurisdictions - don't forget to check with legal first.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:31 AM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

As noted above: advertise where women are likely to see it and make sure that photos and language do not inadvertently discourage female applicants.

Then consider creating your own version of The Rooney Rule. This rule went a long way towards effectively redressing racism in American football by requiring that all Black applicants get interviewed. (They later expanded it o all minorities, iirc.)

There is research that the exact same application with a female name is less likely to get invited for an interview than if it has a male name. Assume subconscious bias and, particularly for male dominated job titles, interview every woman that applies. This gives them a shot at the job and compensates for subconscious bias without setting a quota, potentially violating the law, etc.
posted by Michele in California at 1:01 PM on March 28, 2016

I found this blog article really interesting. I actually brought it up when I interviewed at my current job (which is fairly diverse for a tech company).

Also I would definitely include language like "women and minorities encouraged to apply" (there's probably a better way to say that, such as saucysault's language).
posted by radioamy at 2:06 PM on March 28, 2016

I'm all for you hiring a balanced workforce but please consider that openly advertising that you want to hire only women may be as illegal in your jurisdiction as stating you only want to bring in men. I also don't think that it's a wise idea of going into interviewing with this mindset: you might miss a really great fit if you look for one attribute above all.

What I would recommend is that you start interviewing with a longer list of attributes you are looking for. One thing I do is casually chat with people about what they like and do outside of work. This quickly gives me an idea of whether a person is curious, adventurous or just plain friendly. Team chemistry was always a high item on my wishlist and I am glad to say that in the few months that I have been here I've turned a department that by all means was a homogenous sausagefest into a diverse group that chooses to hang out and be friends after work without my prompting. Good relations among your team members have a direct effect on productivity.
posted by krautland at 7:47 PM on March 28, 2016

I'm having some success in the same thing, but for an internal organization, not a whole company.

I think the most effective strategy is to just hire more women without fanfare. Hire the 8 that applied. Then do another round. Word will get around. Women don't want to be the only women in the company - when your mix starts getting closer to normal, your company will become more attractive. It's a slow start -> critical mass thing.

BUT DONT FORGET the important part. You need to look closely at WHY you're in the situation you're in now. You can't force-hire yourself out of this if there is a reason women don't like working there. You need to have candid, off-the-record discussions with them about what, if anything, is bothering them. And it takes constant vigilance to keep following up on those discussions. Until they get a critical mass to influence the culture, they're at the mercy of man-culture and it doesn't take much for your attrition rate to match your hiring rate and you get nowhere. Hire, sure, but KEEP THE PEOPLE YOU HAVE is a much more important rule #1.
posted by ctmf at 8:26 PM on March 28, 2016

Guys, it's a real sausage-fest in here

I endorse the idea of asking your existing employees to refer folks! Please don't actually use this language, though. It's transphobic and reductive.
posted by zebra at 6:23 AM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you want to hire women, you're going to have to make sure there are women in the applicant pool. There's an extensive report on how to recruit women to apply for technical positions that might be useful to you... I mean, why just guess in the dark when there's a huge body of research on what works? It is US-focused so YMMV, but I think a lot of suggestions here are widely applicable (and frankly can help encourage a more diverse applicant pool, in general):
Solutions to Recruit Technical Women, by the Anita Borg Institute
posted by shaka_lulu at 9:09 AM on March 29, 2016

OK, first-off, you're likely going to get more female applications for these jobs just because admin and sales are less male-dominated fields than accountancy, at least in my experience.

To build on's great that you're aiming for gender balance in your company, and that you're trying to increase the number of female applicants. Hopefully this information will help for future job postings. For these particular job openings, please do consider that a company that is 50% women who all work in admin and sales and 50% men who do all the technical work is not at all "gender balanced". In many ways a rigid gender division like that can be an even worse environment for tech-minded women than a company with no women at all.

One way you could keep tabs on this (along with unconscious bias in promotions etc) is to track how much money the average woman makes in your company vs. the average man. Yes, company-wide averages are flawed because an admin assistant will never get get paid as much as the person who writes code. That's also kinda the point.
posted by randomnity at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

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