July 5, 2022 Whitney van Schyndel

From Gender-Neutral to Gender-Inclusive Hiring

Inclusion is one of the main pillars of successful hiring. Research shows that diversity and inclusion in the workplace lead to a positive employee experience, more creativity, and higher retention, among other organizational benefits. Recognizing women and the value they can bring to your organization is a great starting point in practicing inclusion. To ensure your company creates equitable opportunities for workers, especially those from marginalized groups, such as young women, you should actively remove gender bias in hiring. But this constitutes only half of the journey. Authentic inclusion in the workplace goes far beyond that. For recruitment to be genuinely gender-inclusive, it must actively consider the specific needs of women: in other words, they should transition from being gender-neutral to gender-inclusive.

Women’s needs and aspirations

In many (emerging) economies, women are disproportionately affected by unemployment and continuously held back from meaningfully participating in the labor market. This results in a substantial productive potential being lost.

Job-seeking women can face many roadblocks. One of the most prominent challenges women face is not having their needs reflected in organizational policies. These needs can be diverse, depending on factors such as their age group, family status, or cultural context. For example, women are often excluded from the workforce because they have primary caring duties that conflict with rigid working hours or don’t feel safe partaking in certain jobs (e.g., because of late working hours). In the action research conducted by CFYE’s Kenyan Youth Champions, many young women mentioned gender-specific barriers, including sexual harassment, gender division of job sectors, and the lack of access to childcare to be a significant impediment to entering the workforce. One of the young mothers mentioned that if companies offered policies to protect them and provided them with regular breaks and rooms to attend to their children, they would be much more inclined to take up jobs. Therefore, acknowledging women’s specific issues becomes indispensable in shaping a recruitment strategy that is compassionate to women’s experiences and desires.

Excluding women can also compromise your organization’s long-term success since hiring women leads to more successful business outcomes. This means that tailored strategies to attract women should be ingrained at every level of the recruitment process. Apart from putting gender-forward practices in place, it also becomes essential to evaluate if the way you present the job and your company in the job ad is inviting enough for women. The application stage is the first stumbling block for women’s entry into the workforce. Women are usually hesitant to apply if they don’t feel like they match 100% of the job requirements and, on average, apply for 20% fewer jobs than men on LinkedIn. However, some tweaking in your wording can guarantee a more gender-balanced pool of applicants.

Language matters

A job description is the first impression of your company. And you don’t get to make a first impression twice. The job ad will represent the company identity and the values you encourage in your organization. Your wording can result in either encouraging women to apply or discouraging them. So, how do you achieve the first one? How can you utilize language to stimulate women’s interest and participation in the jobs you offer?

One of CFYE’s Kenyan implementing partners, Shortlist, tested different job descriptions, embedding gender-inclusive and youth-targeted language in some of them to measure the impact wording has in attracting women. To find out how job descriptions affect the initial interest of women, Shortlist set out to complete A/B testing of job ads for four of its clients. As a job-matching platform, Shortlist enjoys considerable diversity in its client group and selected partners from different industries to enrich the experiment’s findings. The clients were asked about their gender-inclusive policies and what they would want to highlight in their job descriptions. Questions, such as “do you have specific gender-forward policies?”, “would you feel comfortable sharing the percentage breakdown of women in the company?”, and “is the phrase ‘committed to gender equality’ an accurate representation of your company?” were raised. Based on the answers, an external gender research team worked on job description B, which had a more active focus on women. After testing both versions of the job descriptions, Shortlist came to these conclusions:

  1. Emphasizing the company’s gender parity efforts makes a difference.

In one of the job descriptions, Shortlist added that women constituted 60% of the workforce, which led to a 40% increase in women starting the job application, while the number of male applicants did not go down. This shows that women prefer workplaces that have a fair gender representation. Showcasing that your organization values women workers will help the potential applicant relate to your company. This also holds for the imagery you choose to use for the job description. Using images of women on recruitment pages and your website will help women see themselves in your organization or the specific position you are advertising.

  1. Job descriptions should highlight concrete gender-forward policies.

Putting your gender-specific policies in the spotlight can be an excellent way to attract women. Shortlist noticed that when mentioning the company offered flexible working hours, an in-office mother’s room, or provided meals and transport assistance, the number of women applying for the job considerably increased.

  1. Wording should be reflective of the policies you implement.

Underlying your commitment to inclusion is a strong message. However, if you can’t back up the promise with tangible practices, it will result in tokenism. Shortlist noticed that when adding generic sentences of gender commitment without solid data to back it up or concrete actions/policies the company implements, women were less inclined to apply.

A continuous learning journey 

Integrating gender into your workplace policies will always be a work in progress. Some gender-inclusive practices might take time to implement, while some will need reiterations to match your organization best. On top of this, gender discussions are constantly evolving. And what might have been a gender-forward policy before can prove outdated within a few years. Direct communication with women becomes essential to ensure your gender policies are still relevant and beneficial to them. Understanding what environment and conditions make your workplace attractive for women will enable you to create policies catered to those needs. An active gender focus in your organization will not only bring a wealth of knowledge and learning to your company but will also empower you to attract the right young women and set your organization up for success.

CFYE is committed to promoting inclusive hiring. Through our ongoing workshops and dialogues with our implementing partners, we strive to learn how inclusion can be encouraged in local contexts and how we can support our partners best on their journey of creating inclusive employment opportunities for youth.