Employers needs to consider how to reduce unconscious bias at each stage of recruitment to reframe the issue of inequality – from job adverts and choice of vocabulary to selection processes – industry experts in diversity have advised.
At an event held by Omni Resource Management Solutions, Sophie Wingfield, senior policy consultant at the Recruitment Employment Confederation (REC), highlighted how employers could still do more to address gender imbalances in particular.
Wingfield reminded the conference, held on the 106th International Women’s Day, that while there were more women in the workforce than ever before, only 4 per cent of FTSE 350 companies have female CEOs.
According to the Chartered Institute of Management, the UK needs 1.9m new managers by 2024. To achieve equal representation of men and women in management, 1.5m of them would need to be women.
As a policy specialist and former adviser to Harriet Harman on women in the workplace, Wingfield and REC – which represents the recruitment industry – have partnered with the all-party parliamentary group on women and work to tackle the inequality issue.
The UK gender pay gap is currently around 18 per cent, but the spotlight must be on companies to make progress as they now have to report annually, Wingfield said, adding that businesses perform better with a more diverse workforce.
To improve the balance on recruitment, she recommended HR professionals should think of key skills for each role, and discuss with managers if jobs can be advertised as ‘flexible’.
Only 6.2 per cent of quality job vacancies are advertised with the option to work flexibly, Wingfield said, but according to the Joseph Rowntree organisation, at least 42 per cent of the workforce wants to work flexibly.
Compressed hours, working from home, job shares and ‘returnships’ could all be made more widely available, she suggested.
When it comes to advertising roles, “if you’re trying to appeal to a wider talent pool, think about the terms you use” and ensure they mix traditionally ‘female’ and ‘male’ terms, Wingfield recommended.
Hidden bias affects how job descriptions are written and the sort of applications they encourage. This is problematic when it comes to more senior roles – for which statistically more applications are received from men than women, Wingfield said.
To reduce bias, diverse panels at interviews and standardised questions are needed, she said, citing recent research by LinkedIn which found that interview questions for women were tougher, lengthier and more in-depth than they were for men.
Sifting applications without knowing applicants’ age, title, name, email address, postal address, phone number, nationality and immigration details were important ways of tackling such bias.
Advertising in different places and being explicit about gender diversity goals, as well as varying the hiring process and highlighting case studies of successful women, will also help, Wingfield suggested.
This is not about recruiting ‘for gender equality’ but ‘good recruitment’ which benefits business, Wingfield said, quoting Cheryl Sandberg. Her message was that “in the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders”.
Carol Baxter, head of strategic development at BT, recommended that companies create a mentoring programme where junior women have female senior managers as mentors.
This has been successful in making progress at BT, particularly in its BT Fleet business, Baxter said. She spoke about its award-winning apprenticeship scheme, which helps young women learn engineering and includes opportunities for mature female apprentices.
Given that job candidates can research employers’ attitudes to diversity on websites such as Glassdoor, the way companies treat their employees and their approaches to diversity are increasingly important at the recruitment stage, said Vivienne Aiyela, a non-executive director of London Football Association.
HR professionals are the ‘gatekeepers’, Aiyela added, and must look at everything through the diversity ‘lens’.
This meant conducting diversity audits, conducting employee forums to listen to staff better, and tailoring policies and procedures to their specific organisational needs.
Aiyela also called for more companies to start to reflect the diversity of the population in their recruitment decisions, and to introduce a more open and inclusive business environment within their organisations.