How to attract more women to your senior positions

With International Women’s Day fast approaching, many businesses are thinking about what they can do to foster equality in the workplace, particularly when it comes to high-level roles. Chris Stappard, Managing Director of Edward Reed Recruitment, discusses five measures that employers can take to attract more women to senior positions.

There’s a great deal of evidence to suggest that companies with women on the board make more money (CNBC), and research has even shown that SMEs owned by women are less likely to go insolvent than those owned by men (KSA). But, despite the clear benefits of equality at the highest levels of business, there’s still a disparity between men and women when it comes to senior roles. So, what can you do as an employer to address the issue and attract more female talent? In this article, I’ll share five ways to boost the number of women in high level positions in your workplace.

1.     Offer flexible working

By far one of the most effective ways to help attract women into top positions is to offer flexible working hours, as this allows professional women to balance work and family life more effectively.

There’s huge demand among professional women for more flexible working hours, and a staggering 91% of full-time female workers either work flexibly already or would prefer to, according to a survey from Timewise. So, allowing your staff to work remotely or around the typical 9–5 will certainly make your vacancies more appealing to female candidates. Clear and helpful policies designed to help women fit their workload around personal or family life can also be a big draw for top talent.

Recently, there’s been a shift in perspective among many employers, who are starting to wake up to the fact that an employee’s value to the company should be based around performance, not just how many hours they spend at a desk. So, not only will allowing employees some freedom to organise their own workload and schedules help to attract women, but it could ultimately help you to reduce unproductive presenteeism and boost your overall performance.

2.     Showcase your diversity

These days, candidates are likely to review your website and social media feeds in detail before applying for a position, and they may find it difficult to picture themselves in the role if they can’t see any women being represented. So, be sure to celebrate the achievements of a diverse selection of staff in your social media content and careers page. This will show any women who are currently considering applying for a position that your company is an inclusive place to work. Making your employees feel valued in this way can also help with long-term staff retention rates and morale, too.

3.     Review your hiring and interview process

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that women are more cautious when it comes to applying for senior positions, and are less likely than men to apply for a role if they feel that don’t meet every single requirement in the job ad. A famous research study by Hewlitt Packard found that women would only apply for a job once they met 100% of the criteria, while men felt confident enough to go ahead with an application when they met just 60% of the requirements (Harvard Business Review).

If you want to encourage women to apply for position with your company, ensure that all the criteria listed in your job advertisement are completely relevant to the job, and then vet applicants using exercises and tasks to test their skills. This will ensure that the hiring process is focused squarely on talent and the ability to do the job, keeping the hiring process as fair as possible.

A word on pay: it’s thought that withholding salary details from job listings and asking candidates about their previous pay during interview can actually worsen the gender pay gap, as it means women who currently earn less than men will continue to be paid less as they progress to new jobs. Employers need to do their part to get rid of the gender pay gap, so try to base your employee starting salaries on the value and talent of each candidate, not on previous pay.

4.     Train managers

Thorough training is an especially important step if you’ll be delegating parts of the hiring process to managers, as they will need to completely understand what they need to do to keep the interview and assessment process fair and unbiased. For instance, everyone involved in interviews should know that they can’t quiz applicants about their marital status, children, religious background, age, gender, or family planning aspirations.

You should also check that interviewers are not just recruiting people on the basis that they have similar experience, backgrounds, or outlooks as themselves. While it’s important that new staff fit into your workplace culture, that doesn’t mean just hiring people who are from similar demographics as your existing staff, and interviewers should be aware of this during the interview stage.

5.     Focus on strategic support

If you’ve taken the above steps but you’re still struggling with a ‘glass ceiling’— where women are present at all levels of the company except the boardroom — then you could take additional steps to foster talent in your current workforce. This way, you can help female employees build up the skills and experience they need for promotion to senior positions.

One way to do this is to have a mentoring scheme in place. People really benefit from having mentors, leaders, and peers who can encourage and support their career aspirations, and it’s a great way to create a supportive working culture. Do your best to encourage your employees to support and mentor one another, perhaps by pairing junior employees with more experienced members of staff for support and guidance. You can also devote time and money to training days and give your employees time for personal development — for example, to visit a conference or training seminar.

When it comes to breaking down the glass ceiling and fostering equality in the boardroom, employers and HR managers have a major responsibility. By offering flexible work policies, ensuring your hiring process is fair, and encouraging mentoring and training, you should be able to attract more female employees and help them thrive. 

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