How Much Does Gender Impact How Candidates Search for Jobs?


Whether we want it to or not, gender does affect how people look for jobs, and it’s an intricate process trying to figure it out. Statistics tend to speak in generalities, and don’t highlight individuals. Some women don’t need a confidence boost to help them find a job, for example. But in general, women aren’t as confident when it comes to finding jobs. They’ll only apply to jobs for which they’re 100 percent qualified, whereas men will apply for jobs they’re only 60 percent qualified to perform. Gender impacts how people look for jobs in big ways, and people at every level need to step up to help.

A Matter of Confidence

This behavioral difference in applicants speaks to a culture where women are taught to devalue themselves in the workforce and ask for 30 percent less money in negotiations than men do. It speaks to a culture where whenever women present the same confidence men usually do, they’re labeled as abrasive and bossy. While we can’t solve this culture by spouting statistics, we can take these facts and apply them to diversity initiatives and inclusive workplaces.

How can we help? By being proactive about getting women into our jobs. That’s advice from Jennifer Dulski (@jdulski), President and COO of More from her:

"Reach out to women, rather than waiting for them to come to you. We work with several programs that train female software engineers . . . We also started hosting speakers and networking events in conjunction with Femgineer, and we invite female engineers to come to our offices to speak and network with other engineers. Sometimes they’ll talk about a purely technical topic and sometimes about their career path. These events bring people to our offices so they can see what we’re like and we can meet them."

It’s How You Say It

Here’s a relatively simple case where gender affects the hiring process: job descriptions. In recruiting and other fields of business, we have a tendency to see descriptions and exposition as “neutral” in the same way a Wikipedia article is supposed to be neutral. Simply describing the look, feel, or smell of something can change how we feel about it, but the description itself shouldn’t skewer in favor of anything. They’re just words we throw around because if something’s red, we’re gonna say it’s red, right?

And yet how you describe something can have a huge impact. Research has shown that when job ads use words like “Assertive” and “Aggressive,” they’re catering towards men. Women shy away from applying to jobs that show this kind of language not because women can’t exhibit those traits, but because they demonstrate a culture and work environment which may not suit them, even if that’s not what a company’s culture is like at all.

If you want to attract more women to your workplace, look over your job description and see if you can’t change a few words. Instead of “Assertive” and “Aggressive,” try “Sociable” and “Responsible,” which women gravitate toward. It’ll help women feel more comfortable applying. Also note from the infographic, men will apply whether you use feminine or masculine words to describe your job, so you have nothing to lose by changing your wording.

On the Mountaintop

Gender affects hiring at the highest levels of recruitment, and the results there are even more astonishing. There are more CEOs named David than there are women CEOs period. It’s what happens when women don’t feel confident enough in themselves, because the culture of business has told them they need to be purple squirrels just to apply in male-dominated fields. And when it comes to the job you need to be the most qualified to have, what are the chances you’ll get in, if you’re a woman working for a boys’ club?

Perhaps the worst part about this is women are also conditioned to compete with each other. A woman’s chances of getting one of the five highest-paying jobs at a company drops a devastating 51 percent if there’s already a woman on the team. Getting more women into executive roles is a difficult thing to give advice on, because the problem often started long before a woman is in a position to get an executive job. What we can do, however, is get a conversation started about how we can make it happen, something the Guardian recently did.

Yes, gender does affect the hiring process, in these ways and plenty more we probably can’t imagine. While it’s not an easy problem to fix, there’s more than enough we can do at every level to make sure women get a fair shot at the jobs they deserve.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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