Does it seem as if qualified women applicants aren’t applying to your company? In some fields, it’s common for business leadership to feel this way. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review piece notes that statements such as “women don’t apply when I post a job,” or “this field doesn’t have enough qualified women,” are commonly received at Stanford University’s VMware Women’s Leadership Lab, whose mission is helping companies diversify their talent base.
But the HBR authors note that the issue is very likely not an actual dearth of qualified women candidates. It’s that the companies are sending signals throughout the recruitment process that their cultures may not be hospitable to women or to promoting qualified women. As a result, women are choosing not to pursue opportunities in that culture.
Sending “Bro Culture” Signals
This can happen even pre-recruitment. The HBR piece observes that women seemed less engaged by company presentations that emphasized certain qualities at a technology conference. What were those qualities?
Well, first, an emphasis on culture and perks more likely to be hospitable to or favored by men, such as a “work hard, play hard” culture with heavy emphasis on beer pong, drinking shots after work, and working late nights in an office. These qualities mimic those of a college fraternity – but display “bro culture” values. In some companies, notably Uber 1.0, those values have proven to be inhospitable to women.
Second, presentations in which men are active and in the lead but women are more decorative tend to make women less engaged. If your company gives a presentation in which all the speakers are men and the women play supportive roles – handing out swag, for instance, or ushering people in the right direction – both women and men are likely to assume that your company mirrors that behavior. It’s not conducive to advancement for professional women.
Third, the images in presentations matter, as well. If the images are all of men in professional and active roles, and/or the women are nonexistent or sexualized, the message to most professional women is that this is not a culture likely to be hospitable to them.
Companies that want to appeal to women should illustrate gender diversity.
How to Appeal to Women
These are, of course, examples taken from conference presentations. But the same principles apply to all aspects of the recruitment process.
Job postings, for example, shouldn’t be phrased in ways that emphasize masculinity or bro culture values. “Wrestle with problems” or “ninja warrior” are two examples. Those send signals to women that the culture is not for them.
It’s very likely that potential job applications also access your web site and social media channels. If language or images are used that subtly indicate that women are not in active positions or not likely to find a hospitable culture, women are going to be subtly discouraged from applying.
The answer, of course, is to stop not only those references and images but to turn the culture that encourages them around. Some steps toward this are:
1. Promote women and people of color and make them visible.
Promotions of traditionally excluded groups send a powerful signal of inclusion.
2. Encourage leadership development among women
Groups of senior women dedicated to mentoring and leadership development can serve as incubators for female talent.