Solving the gender conundrum

Apr 2, 2018 | Diversity

Diversity is still a major challenge in graduate recruitment, with male applications dramatically outweighing those from women. Charles Hipps, CEO at WCN considers what can be done to break this cycle.

Our Must-Know Student Recruiting Trends for 2018 report looked at almost 375,000 anonymised applications across 2016 and 2017 from students looking to work in six of the Times Top 100 graduate recruiters.

A core element of our study was to look at how the male to female ratio was changing over the two years and what that meant in terms of eventual hires. 

We found that in 2016, 27% of applications were from candidates declaring themselves as female, compared to 71% who indicated their gender as male. A year later, and the percentage of applications had risen to 37% for females compared to 63% of males, indicating that the gender balance was starting to improve.

Women are more successful at getting hired

Of those applying, females were more successful at being hired in percentage terms in both years, though the numbers remain in the male’s favour. 

The 2016 intake saw 3.3% of females who applied successfully being hired versus 1.65% of males and in 2017 the proportions were 3.17% versus 1.99% respectively.

There is perhaps some logic to these year on year improvements. Data from UCAS shows that women are now more than a third more likely to go to university than men – the gap between the sexes has reached record levels.

Its analysis shows that across the UK 27.3% of all young men are expected to go to university this year, compared with 37.1% of young women. That means 18-year-old women are 36% more likely to start degree courses this autumn than their male peers.

This is a trend that respondents to the Highfliers Graduate Market Report 2018 recognised as a major challenge. 

The results showed that achieving diversity targets including gender remains the highest priority for recruiters, as organisations seek to recruit a more balanced workforce, with graduates from a wider range of backgrounds and circumstances.

What women want

As part of the WCN study, we asked Universum to survey students across the UK to identify what females want when considering their preferred place to work. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the result showed that both men and women value equality and diversity at the workplace, but it is women that are even more sensitive to it. This sentiment has been obvious in recent campaigns by companies that celebrated International Women’s Day.

Universum drilled down further to see how this should be marketed to women when choosing a place to work. 

The results showed that the most important attribute to women was that a company could demonstrate ethical standards. Men mostly wanted a competitive base salary. Females also said they wanted to be able to see support for gender equality and proof of inspiring purpose in a business while males were looking for high performance focus and market success. You can start to build a picture of how this continues.

Diversity solutions

So, how can recruiters overcome the hurdle of wanting to attract both sexes while at the same time appealing to both markets? 

The key to getting this right is to tailor communication and cover all bases with recruitment marketing, carried right through to events. 

Female students are clearly looking to see role models who they can aspire to, so emphasise all of the women-oriented initiatives that your business is part of as well as the internal networks for women that encourage inspiring leadership and purpose.

Provide mentors who can promote positive vibes and share successful corporate social responsibility stories with candidates in frequent e-mail communications to align with physical interactions. Always remember that purpose, diversity and inclusion, and respect are key for UK female students.

It’s not just the engagement and events where this has to be evident. Recruitment processes need to follow these principles too. 

Harnessing blind recruiting techniques could be one way of doing this – but there are some pitfalls, as revealed in WCN and University College London research. We consider this to be the first large-scale statistical linguistic analysis of male and female resumes across multiple job sectors. It reveals that small, but statistically significant patterns, such as resume length, readability and use of certain words, can easily lead to gender identification.

Can this bias be mitigated? Yes. Gender de-biasing methodology can successfully remove gender redundant encoding and lower disparate impact scores applied during machine based hiring predictions. This makes it suitable for use in automated hiring screening processes where not causing disparate impact is paramount. Fair consideration is the first step to true inclusion. 

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