Gender diversity – why aren’t we getting it right?


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Why is it so hard to get diversity right? As experts in the world of work, Hays’ recruitment consultants witness thousands of selection and hiring decisions every day. We also see the attempts by many organisations to identify, educate and implement policies and activities to improve diversity in their workforce. Despite this, we are yet to see impactful and sustainable change.

Subsequently, we sought to develop a deeper understanding about what will create diversity, while raising awareness and educating the market about this critical issue. So far, we’ve spoken to over 7,500 people and produced several diversity research pieces.

Two of these focused on gender diversity. At Hays, we’ve seen countless cases of hiring managers who are presented with a gender-diverse shortlist but select more men than women for interview. Given this, we wanted to find out what part unconscious gender-bias plays in such decisions.

The case of Simon versus Susan

We partnered with Insync Surveys and sent the CV of ‘Susan’ to over 500 hiring managers – then changed her name to ‘Simon’ and sent the CV to another 500 hiring managers. Despite being the exact same CV except for the name, the attitudes of hiring managers towards ‘Susan’ and ‘Simon’ differed.

One key finding was that female respondents said ‘Susan’ matched more attributes needed for the job than Simon, while men said ‘Simon’ matched more attributes than ‘Susan’. Despite this, both genders were significantly more likely to interview and hire ‘Simon’ rather than ‘Susan’.

We also found that survey respondents who hire more than 20 people a year were more likely to interview ‘Simon’ over ‘Susan’ (65 per cent versus 51 per cent). For hiring managers who recruited less regularly, the gap between ‘Susan’ and ‘Simon’ reduced to 3 per cent.

This is an interesting finding since unconscious bias is more likely to impact decisions that are made quickly. Such managers would say they rely on their experience, but it’s possible their decisions are less deliberate and therefore when an unconscious bias exists it affects their hiring decisions. In comparison, people who don’t have as much hiring experience are more considered in their decisions.

Gender bias across different sectors

We also found that the bigger the organisation, the bigger the bias. 62 per cent of respondents from organisations with over 500 staff said it was extremely probable that they would interview ‘Simon’; 56 per cent would interview ‘Susan’. In organisations with less than 500 staff this interview bias almost disappears.

In the public and not-for-profit sectors, we found a bias towards women. 31 per cent of public and not-for-profit respondents said ‘Simon’ had the leadership skills to do the job, compared to 42 per cent in the private sector. Public and not-for-profit sector respondents were also more likely to see ‘Susan’ rather than ‘Simon’ as having the technical skills (36 per cent versus 30 per cent) and leadership skills (39 per cent versus 31 per cent) to perform the role.

So we found a bias towards women in the public and not-for-profit sector and men in the private sector. This seems to reinforce stereotypes of women being better at ‘taking care’ and men at ‘doing business’ and ‘being decisive’.

It also suggests that gender diversity should not be focused solely on improving the number of women in the workplace; instead, all genders should be supported in the workforce. This message is perhaps most relevant to heavily female dominated organisations that want to attract more men.

Finally, we found that organisations are still not serious enough about gender diversity. 56 per cent of hiring managers said plans and resources need to be put in place or improved to help achieve gender diversity in their organisation. Meanwhile, 44 per cent said their CEO is not serious enough about achieving gender diversity in their organisation, and 39 per cent said their senior executives need to be better role models of diversity and inclusiveness.

Few would admit to bias but as our survey results show it does exist. Yet having unconscious beliefs isn’t the problem – the problem is a failure to recognise them and then challenge them when you recruit.

What people really think about gender diversity

Following our survey of hiring managers, we next sought the views of almost 6,000 women and men to determine what they really think about gender diversity.

We found that there is a gender diversity divide, with more women (45 per cent) than men (18 per cent) thinking the sexes aren’t paid or rewarded equally, and more women than men (48 per cent to 21 per cent) believing the same career options are not open to both genders.

This suggests that most people in executive and senior management roles – the majority of whom are men – still fail to see any inequality when it comes to pay and career opportunities between the sexes. This makes it difficult to see how there will be any significant advancement in this area while the majority of people in senior roles do not recognise it as an issue.

So what did people think would improve gender diversity? Almost one in two (44 per cent) of our survey respondents cited more flexible working practices as having the biggest impact. This was equal to changes to workplace culture through education (44 per cent), highlighting female role models (32 per cent), changes to organisational policy (32 per cent), changes to government policy (27 per cent) and better board backing for diversity issues (26 per cent).

Just 9 per cent of respondents said implementing quotas would have a big impact, showing the vast majority believe that cultural change and practical measures, rather than formal quotas, are the answer.

Kathy Kostyrko is the Director (Public Sector) at Hays Australia. She’s forged an extensive career in the recruitment industry in Australia and New Zealand, including more than 20 years with Hays.

Hays was the Gold Partner for the 2015 NFP People Conference.

For more information, see the Hays/Insync Surveys report Gender diversity: Why aren’t we getting it right and the Hays Leading Women survey.

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