Strategies to Improve Gender Diversity in the Workplace

In the last couple of months, I talked to many C-level executives, HR directors and talent acquisition managers about their challenges in hiring and retaining women (more inclusively defined, individuals who identify as female). They told me they want to make their workforce more gender-diverse to improve their organisation’s performance, productivity and profit, but don’t know where to start.

In this blog, I will dive into this topic and share with you the importance of gender diversity strategies, women-specific career challenges, recruitment best practices, the importance of an inclusive brand and Covid’s impact on gender-diverse workforces.

Importance of gender diversity strategies

Research has shown that gender-diverse organisations have better performance, higher productivity and increased profits.

  • Performance McKinsey research shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform those that are not. 
  • Productivity Following The World Economic Forum research, gender equality can increase company workforce productivity by as much as 16%. 
  • Profit According to data from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, companies that increased the share of female leaders up to 30% demonstrated a 15% increase in profits.

However, many organisations struggle to attract, develop and retain women. That is why it is so important to put strategies in place.

  • Attracting talent Young women care deeply about the opportunity to progress at their workplace, work flexible hours and maintain their well-being. Organisations that don’t take action to meet those wishes may struggle to attract and retain the next generation of women leaders. 
  • Developing leaders As long as women are underrepresented in decision-making roles, the pipeline will continue to leak. Companies with female CEOs are more likely to have women in strategic management roles. 
  • Retaining employees Companies are struggling to hold on to the relatively few female leaders they have because they are seeking a different work culture. Women are more likely than men to leave a job because of the organisation’s lack of commitment to Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Women-specific career challenges

Women want to progress, but they face stronger headwinds than men. Before we look at recruitment best practices, let me list four career challenges specific to women when looking for a new job or making the next career move.

1. Facing biases

  • CV gap Three-quarters of professional women on career breaks want to return to work. Yet three in five highly skilled and qualified returning professional women could end up in lower-skilled – and, as result, lower-paid – jobs. Lack of recent experience is automatically associated with the erosion of skills. 
  • Prove it again Men are often evaluated based on their “potential”, whereas women are judged on their past.

2. Experiencing microaggressions

  • Qualification Colleagues of women can imply that they aren’t qualified for their job. When this happens women are more likely to devalue their own leadership, take less credit for their team’s success and have less interest in being a leader in the future.
  • Status Personal statuses such as gender or care responsibilities cause women to be denied or passed over for a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead.
  • Seniority Female leaders are twice as likely as men to be mistaken for someone more junior.

3. Being undervalued

  • Availability Many businesses run on a culture of constant availability which makes it very difficult for women to effectively compete with male colleagues and rise through the ranks, as women are often requested to juggle family responsibilities with their careers. If this juggling leads to working from home more often, this entails fewer opportunities for recognition and advancement.
  • Support Compared with men at their level, women leaders do more to support employee well-being and foster DEI but this work is oftentimes not acknowledged at all in performance reviews.
  • Salary Women and men remain concentrated in different jobs and fields, a trend known as occupational segregation. Male-dominated occupations generally pay more than female-dominated occupations, even at similar skill levels.

4. Lacking influence

  • Glass ceiling The glass ceiling refers to discriminatory barriers that prevent women from rising to positions of power or responsibility and advancing to higher positions within an organisation simply because they are women. When women are not present in the highest positions in business, they cannot impact the workplace culture.
  • Glass wall The glass wall refers to the phenomenon of occupational segregation where female managers tend to be concentrated in business support functions, such as HR, finance and administration and have limited decision-making power or strategic input and therefore limited opportunities to rise in the company. By contrast, male managers are over-represented in research and development, profit and loss and operations. These areas are typically viewed as more “strategic” and usually lead to decision-making roles at higher levels.
  • Glass cliff The glass cliff refers to a situation in which women are promoted to higher positions during times of crisis or duress, or during a recession when the chance of failure is more likely. Put simply, women in these situations are set up for failure. 

Recruitment best practices

Making your recruitment and promotion measures more DEI-minded could help you attract and retain more women. Below I will share tips related to gender-diverse talent sourcing, job advertisements, recruitment and promotion procedures and interview practices.

Talent sourcing

  • LinkedIn Use LinkedIn’s filtering and search features which make it possible to discover candidates who identify as a woman by e.g. including “She/Her” in the search field or certain associations or group names.
  • Communities Source candidates where they typically spend time. There are many online and offline women’s networks which could be a great source to meet and connect with women directly.
  • Fairs Go to women’s career fairs. They are a hub for finding talent.
  • Referrals Set up a candidate referral program and encourage female employees to share your job ads with their networks
  • Internships Start an internal gender diversity program that offers internships. This is a great way to encourage candidates in your industry to join your team and get experience.

Job advertisement

  • Salary Be upfront about the salary for the role. This shows you are committed to fair pay. Salary and benefits information is ranked as the number one most important part of a job description for both genders, above qualifications, culture and long-term opportunities, but is more important to women.
  • Conditions Review your benefits. Jobs that promote flexible work, working from home and medical benefits are the most popular among women. 
  • Requirements Encourage candidates to apply even if they don’t meet all the requirements. An internal Hewlett-Packard study found that women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications listed for the job, while men applied when they thought they could meet 60%.
  • Language Review your language in job listings. Language can influence a person’s decision to apply, for example, words such as active, competitive, dominate, decisive, fearless and objective are often considered to be masculine. Words like community, dependable, responsible, committed, empathetic and supportive are regarded as more feminine. A study also found women are more likely to engage with an advert if the personality requirements are phrased in a task-directed way (you always remain calm under pressure) as opposed to a trait (you are calm/not nervous).

Recruitment & promotion procedures

  • Resumes Create objective criteria for reviewing resumes. Resumes can include information that you don’t need to evaluate and that might create bias, such as a candidate’s name, schools attended and home address.
  • Salary Focus on the job’s worth. Organisations such as Google exclude previous salary information from decisions on salary offers. This prevents ‘anchoring’, meaning that our minds get fixed on an initial number, with the result that when it comes to paying decisions, there is a tendency to fixate on someone’s current salary instead of what the job is actually worth. 
  • Codes Establish clear codes of conduct for recruitment and promotion. This can increase transparency and help avoid unconscious biases. You can increase accountability by requiring departments and committees to justify recruitment and promotion shortlists that do not include women.
  • Data Track and analyse the recruitment, promotion and retention data to identify biases. Also, exit interviews can help to find out why women are leaving your organisation and make you aware of the company dynamics.

Interview practices

  • Training Provide unconscious bias training for recruiters and teach them about their blind spots in the recruitment process. At the start of meetings, you could give everyone a simple handout of common errors and biases of assessors.
  • Standardisation Create a standardised rubric for evaluating candidates and eliminate “gut feelings.” Ask each interviewee the same questions in the same order and set up candidates for success by telling them the questions to expect. This approach helps minimise performance anxiety, which may especially impact women.
  • Panel Make sure candidates meet at least one interviewer of the same gender. By seeing someone “like them,” candidates may feel more at ease and do better in the interview process. 
  • Experts Have gender equality officers or fairness observers who can report whether equal consideration has been given to candidates of all genders.
  • Test Assign a task that’s similar to the future work. Work tests are among the most reliable predictors of how someone will do in a job.

Importance of an inclusive brand 

An inclusive brand is no longer a nice-to-have but an imperative. Employers need to recognise that they cannot afford to ignore DEI-related reputational risks. Their diversity record is under close and constant scrutiny, not only from the talent they need to attract and retain but also from customers, investors, stakeholders, governments and regulators. Below are 5 examples of what you can do to improve your DEI branding.

1. Stating your commitment 

State your commitment to an inclusive working environment on your website and back this up with evidence, such as gender-friendly policies (e.g. parental leave, menopause policies and women-specific leadership development). This will make women feel more welcome and supported. 

2. Using social media

Highlight your openness to diversity on your job page, LinkedIn, Twitter and other company official channels. Also, you could try to encourage employees to post about this on their social media accounts.

3. Representing women in recruiting material

Share stories of women who are succeeding across all levels of your organisation. Both women and men are equally likely to visit a company’s LinkedIn page and research a company’s culture prior to applying for a job.

4. Organising and sponsoring events

Sponsor events and partner with key women’s networking groups relevant to your field of work to build brand awareness.

5. Establishing a gender-diverse leadership team

Get more women on the leadership team. Research done by PWC stated that when considering a potential employer, 61% of women look at the diversity of the employer’s leadership team, 67% at whether it has positive role models similar to them and 56% at whether the organisation publicly shares its progress on diversity.

Covid’s impact on gender-diverse workforces

Before Covid hit, women were making significant progress towards overcoming gender inequality. Representation was on the rise but unfortunately, 2020 reversed these accomplishments. Due to Covid, lots of jobs were lost, many of them belonging to women. According to the International Labour Organization, female employment around the world declined by 4.2% (versus 3% for men) in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Another huge impact Covid had was that it forced organisations to let their employees work remotely. This led to a workforce with different wishes and demands when it comes to their place of work. The option to work remotely is especially important to women. Many women point to remote and hybrid work options as one of their top reasons for joining or staying with an organisation. These preferences have to do with them juggling many different tasks but also with experiencing fewer microaggressions and higher levels of psychological safety. 

Final thoughts

If you are wondering if your gender diversity strategies are working, ask your female employees if they are having any issues and if so, how you can make improvements. Another relevant question is: would you recommend us to a friend? Keep improving until this question is always answered with “yes!” Your current employees are your best, or worst, advertisement.

Finally, if you are a woman and someone is willing to hire you because of your gender, go for it! Would you let someone hire you because they know your father or because you played golf with them? The only difference is that there is no stereotype threat. If someone wants to hire you for your gender, take the job.

If you want to discuss any of these topics with me, please send me a PM.


Study: Firms with more women in the C-suite are more profitable – M. Noland and T. Moran – Harvard Business Review

Global gender gap report – World Economic Forum

Delivering through diversity – D. V. Hunt, L. Yee, S. Prince and S. Dixon-Fyle – McKinsey

Beyond the glass ceiling: Why businesses need women at the top – International Labour Organisation

Glass Cliff: Definition, Research, Examples, Vs. Glass Ceiling – J. Kagan

Women in the workplace 2022 – A. Krivkovich, W. W.  Liu, H. Nguyen, I. Rambachan, N. Robinson, M. Williams and L. Yee – McKinsey

Women returners – PWC

Intentionally favored, unintentionally harmed? Impact of sex-based preferential selection on self-perceptions and self-evaluations – M. Heilman, M. Simon and D.

Repper – Journal of Applied Psychology

Language matters. How words impact men and women in the workplace – LinkedIn

 The power of location in jobs – T. Halloran – Textio

How to recruit diverse talent: 15 Ways to build a more diverse talent pipeline – J. Dewar

DE&I sourcing methods to reach passive candidates – Fetcher

How to recruit more women to your company – S. O’Brien – Harvard Business Review

Winning the fight for female talent. How to gain the diversity edge through inclusive recruitment – PWC

Gender equality, dealt a blow by COVID-19, still has much ground to cover – A. Barua – Deloitte

COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects – A. Madgavkar, M. Krishnan, O. White, D. Mahajan and X. Azcue – McKinsey

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