Addressing the gender gap in recruitment

  • Date posted: 22 Jun 2017
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At GCS we’re well placed to take a step back and look at the industry and the problems it faces. One of the most prominent issues we’ve investigated is the lack of female representation throughout the industry. After attending events around this subject and talking to women in recruitment both internally and externally, it was obvious that we needed to help facilitate some changes. 

It’s no secret that throughout the world, there are many industries where women are underrepresented. Less than 10% of all UK engineers are currently female, only 16% of women hold senior roles at the UK’s biggest companies (based on 2016 figures, paywall) and while a record breaking amount of 207 female MPs head to parliament, they still make up less than 33%. 

Throughout recruitment there are several problems which contribute to a lack of women advancing their careers to more senior roles. In a 2015 report (The Woman in Recruitment Survey: 2015), APSCo surveyed 417 recruiters (84% being female) and found that there tends to be four common reasons that lead to a lack of female engagement. 

A lack of female role models 

Having role models in the workplace is an important reminder to what we can achieve throughout our careers and helps us to learn, directly or indirectly, the next steps towards more senior roles. However, if women in recruitment aren’t making it to the more senior positions, then it might appear to those just starting their career that it is not possible for them to progress any further. 

Only 27% of the total respondents said they had a female role model within their business. To add context to this statistic, a quarter of all respondents felt that the absence of someone similar to themselves in higher positions would negatively impact their career. This is a legitimate worry among many industries as an unconscious bias can often influence recruitment and progression. 

Family planning 

A majority of the respondents felt that one of the most negative influences in regards to promotion throughout the entire recruitment sector was family or caring responsibilities. However, with only 36% of male responders believing this to be true, it appears to be a more serious obstacle for women in recruitment.    

When APSCo asked which factors would encourage women to advance their careers, 63% said flexible working. A lack of flexibility to attend family duties could see talented women unable to return to work and the career they chose in recruitment. This could be due to the fact that despite recruitment being a rewarding career, it is also very time consuming and the absence of flexible working can make it tough to plan a family around.   

Work-life balance 

Recruitment as a career can often involve longer hours than usual to secure the lucrative amounts of commission that can be earned. However, 38% of those surveyed believe that the difficulties in trying to maintain a balance between their work and lives affects their work negatively and therefore the industry’s profitability as a whole 

Lad culture 

The recruitment industry is frequently seen as male-dominated and having a raucous and boisterous culture. When asked about the most negative aspects of the job, 41% named this as the most negative career obstacle. APSCo’s 2015 report also suggests that recruitment could have sexism stemming from its culture.  

“What was more surprising though were some of the discriminatory practices – and sexually explicit comments – interviewees and respondents reported. One interviewee described how, even though she was the top biller, she and other young female staff had been excluded from client entertainments because “we need the guys to be there not the girls”. The same interviewee also pointed out how offensively explicit sexual comments aimed at (even) senior female members of staff are still commonplace in some male dominated offices.” 

This too was found in our own research with one respondent to our internal survey commenting: 

[it’s] Quite a lad’s environment- trying to fit in with the boys can be tough. I find I am not as cut throat as the boys. 

After taking a closer look internally, we noticed that while we have a focus on equality within the workplace, the stigma of male recruitment still leads to us receiving many more applications from men than women. This was evident in our own internal recruitment and has become one of the areas where we’ve prioritised change. Out of the 29 new starters we recruited in 2016 only 8 of them were women meaning that only 29% of our new hires were female.  

What are GCS doing to change this? 

Recently, we interviewed a young female candidate and were told that at a previous interview with another recruiter, the Managing Director had described her as “a risky hire” due to her gender and junior level of expertise. This has helped spark the passion within GCS to create a more inclusive workplace and prove that women can succeed in this industry. Throughout our offices we have mothers and wives who have managed to pursue their career to this highest levels and now it’s time to help show others that they can too. 

Internally, we have recognised the problems women joining this business may face and have worked to address these. During 2017, we’ve managed to bring more women into the business in just 5 months than the entirety of last year. With 10 of our 19 new starters being female, 52% of our hires have been female as we continue to develop a higher quality funnel of talent from both genders. 

If we want to make a change within the industry, we first have to take a look at ourselves. Through internal surveys, discussions and joining with APSCo, we want to ensure we’re doing everything to allow women and subsequently our own business to succeed.  

To empower women in our offices to reach director level positions we’ve also implemented a mentoring scheme, ensuring every female recruiter is given peer-to-peer talks to help grasp how they can progress along their career path. By offering this support from above, we’re letting the women throughout GCS know that there is a place for them in the more senior roles. 

At a recruitment level, we’re also ensuring that any female candidates we interview get to meet female members of the team. Some of our candidates may have only met male members of the company during the interview process, so to introduce them to people that they could identify with a bit more personally could help us achieve a more diverse, talented workforce. 

While we don’t want to set concrete targets just yet, we do have goals—we would initially like to see each team with at least 30% of its members being female. We examined the structure of each of our teams and discovered that 3 of them have no female members. However, when we hire internally we don’t want it to be completely about gender when looking for the best talent. 

Among this we want to try and cut down on the unconscious bias that is always present during most recruitment. When we interview we tend to develop a bias towards people who remind us of ourselves and this too can affect the promotion process.  

Externally we want to make sure our process is helping women consider recruitment as a viable career. To do this, we’ve set up a Women in Recruitment forum to provide successful women a focused platform where they can communicate and discuss the industry as a whole. Alongside this, we’re planning female only graduate events with the hope that by being introduced to successful women who have worked to develop their careers, we can encourage more women to see recruitment as a viable option 

Equal representation of both genders is important for every industry to show men and women that there is no typical workforce. However, this isn’t about girl power, this is about creating an equal playing field throughout all the industries that desperately need increased female engagement and it needs both men and women to help take the right steps. 

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