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Closing the gender gap when hiring new staff

Women remain underrepresented in positions of power, so is for instance just 8% of Fortune 500 companies led by women. So, how can we close the gender gap when hiring new staff? Two researchers at Harvard have some ideas presented in the Harvard Business Review. One major is to in the recruiting process ensure gender diversity among the people reviewing résumés and interviewing candidates.

”Interviewer diversity also sends a message to prospective employees.”

“Removing information about candidate gender through blind auditions and anonymized résumés has been shown to increase the proportion of women who advance in an application process.”

The researchers are Colleen Ammerman, director of the gender initiative and Boris Grovsberg, professor of business administration, both of them at Harvard Business School who together have written “Glass Half-Broken: Shattering the Barriers That Still Hold Women Back at Work”.

Of course, later on the recruiting process it´s impossible to hide who the candidate is.

”Nonetheless, they can minimize its impact by relying on formal procedures.”


The researchers stress the importance of being aware of un-intentional bias.

”Before you even have an applicant pool, your organization may have inadvertently weeded out qualified women. Consider how managers frequently identify candidates—by relying on personal networks for recommendations. This approach taps trustworthy sources but doesn’t usually lead to much variety in the pool, because people tend to be drawn to those who are like them.”

”Job descriptions also often discourage qualified women from applying. Research has shown, for example, that women are less likely to apply for a job if the ideal candidate is described with traditionally masculine characteristics.”


”A study of Canada’s top two employment websites found that for occupations where men predominate, job announcements included stereotypically masculine terms (such as competitive and forceful), and for those where women predominate, the announcements used stereotypically feminine terms (such as supportive and understanding).”

The researchers find that gendered language deterred women from applying to “men’s” jobs, even when they believed they had the requisite skills.

”Unclear job descriptions also discourage qualified women from applying, whereas clear ones encourage them—without discouraging men.”

”Additionally, when postings are over the top in describing the perfect candidate, women are less likely to put themselves forward. An easy fix is to strip postings of superlatives—instead of excellent coding skills, for example, go with coding skills. And if qualifications are only “nice to have” and not core to the role, strip them out too.”

The researchers point out that in a recruiting process, gender bias can creep into the selection process in numerous ways, beginning with your review of résumés.


“Studies have shown, for example, that applicants whose résumés suggest that they are from historically disadvantaged groups are less likely to be called for interviews. Acknowledging such patterns is a critical first step in helping interviewers assess candidates impartially.”

”When managers believe that women as a whole are less skilled than men in certain areas, they tend to bypass female applicants, no matter how well qualified their résumés suggest they are.”

”Managers may also be biased against women who identify themselves as parents or of child-bearing age; mothers are less likely to receive a callback from potential employers, even when their résumés are identical to those of male applicants or childless women.”

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