If you’re looking for a great book on data bias- pick up Caroline Criado-Perez’s “Invisible Women,” and thank us later. In it, she discusses how in so many aspects of society, men are treated as the default person and women as an outlier. Many traditional systems are built around men’s needs and wants, and yes- that includes job postings. In a study where women were shown job postings and asked to choose which jobs to apply to, they were significantly less likely to apply for jobs that used gendered language in their descriptions (i.e., our ideal candidate is willing to work closely with his team...). They’d talk it down to personal reasons for not applying. Other language choices were found to turn women off as well- including typically male adjectives like “aggressive,” “confident,” “ninja,” and “rockstar,” all too commonly found in job postings.
Location is also a huge factor for women. Women are less likely to commit to a big commute than their male peers. Women still do about three times more unpaid care work than men. Working close to home makes a big difference if you have kids to pick up from school or elderly relatives to help get to an appointment. Women are likely to make location-specific choices and to choose to only apply to jobs at companies that are close to home. Flexible Working Options and Work from Home opportunities are so notoriously attractive to women for this exact reason- they often have important responsibilities that lie outside of work (not that men don’t have these responsibilities- but overwhelming evidence suggests women typically take on more of them). In a poll of non-working adults done in 2014 by the NY Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 61% of women said that family responsibilities were the reason they weren’t working (as compared to 37% of men).
Studies have also shown that women get turned off from job postings that go overboard in the requirement section- women often feel like they need to have mastered all the skills on a job posting before applying for a job. For the most part- men don’t feel that way. A Hewlett Packard internal report cited that men feel they need to meet 60% of the qualifications of a job in order to apply. This could perhaps be boiled down to the fact that women often feel like they need to over-perform in their job not just to prove that they deserve to be there- but that women deserve to be there. LinkedIn recently released a report stating that despite women viewing and applying to fewer jobs and recruiters being 13% less likely to reach out to women- they’re more likely to be hired once they apply. We’d challenge this by pointing out that perhaps women are just applying to jobs that they’re more (even over) qualified for.
All this is to say- if women are scrolling through online job boards, looking at dozens upon dozens of postings that unconsciously drive them away- then they’re probably not going to utilize online job boards to the same extent their male colleagues will. Whether it is intended or not- so much of the online job search is biased toward men, from the language utilized in postings to the AI systems filtering candidates (more on that here). In turn- job boards tend to be dominated by men. Women, on the other hand- look to social media more than men. From LinkedIn to Facebook to sites like Glassdoor or Fairy God Boss. It helps them harness a stronger picture of what the company is like its culture, and its employees.
Women, we’ve found, are slightly more passive candidates in the job search. They actively seek out new jobs less than their male colleagues do. It takes more infrastructure for a woman to succeed in a job. Not that women aren’t as talented and competent as their male peers- but their success isn’t guaranteed in the same way it is for men. If a woman finds herself in a company that is heavily male-dominated, then she’s stuck being the odd one out. This isn’t an uncommon experience- one in five women say that they’re often the only woman (or one of the only women) in the room at work. These women face higher rates of microaggressions (with 80% reporting experiencing them versus 64% of women as a whole). They are more likely than other women to be the targets of rude or demeaning remarks. A McKinsey report showed that women who are “onlys” are twice as likely to be the victims of sexual harassment at work- which is stunning because already one in four women report being sexually harassed in the workplace. Suppose a woman finds herself in a company that values long work hours and staying into the night, but she has children to take care of at home (women are still more likely to be primary caretakers even if both partners work). In that case, she’s probably less likely to land that promotion everyone is vying for or be included in important projects at work. Success (and safety- in many ways) isn’t guaranteed with talent for women at work, especially when they work in male-dominated fields.
In terms of networking- there is a lot to unpack. Women don’t network the same way that men do. They often have less energy for (or capacity to engage in) late-night after-work networking than their male coworkers- as stated before- women are still more likely to be the primary caretakers of their children (as well as elderly relatives). They also, regardless of whether or not they have children, tend to value work-life balance more than their male co-workers. A study done by the Kellogg School of Management found that men tended to have larger networks and approached networking situations by figuring out what others could do for them. Women tend to have smaller professional networks- and focus more on what they can do for other people. Women struggle to network the same way men do. Aside from societal or personal differences, women who are “aggressive” are seen as unlikeable, and women’s professional or social advances are often misunderstood as sexual or romantic ones. The Kellogg study found that women in graduate programs whose networks were primarily male struggled as they entered the workforce- placing significantly lower in the organization than their male peers and their female peers who had strong female networks. In our survey of hundreds of professionals, we found that 40% of them got their last job through either networking or a referral from a family member, coworker, or friend. However, according to a joint study by LinkedIn and the Adler Group- 85% of jobs are filled through networking. So as anyone knows- who you know is everything when it comes to the job search, and women are at a disadvantage on that front.
In conclusion- women look for jobs differently. They’re attracted to different things. They look in different places and network differently. So if you’re a leader in a company looking to hire more women, you’re going to need to switch up your process. You’ll learn, like us, that may be the way you’re reaching out to the world is turning away women before they even apply. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. A 2025 goal of gender or pay parity in your organization is all well and good- but it’s going to come down to what you’re doing right now. Go to social media, reach out to a professional recruiting agency, don’t just hire referrals through your current employees (especially if you have a highly male workforce), rethink your job postings, and think about where you put them. If this all seems like way too much to figure out, no worries, that’s what we’re here for. Get in touch. And don’t forget- hiring women is just the first step. Ensuring that your company supports and retains them is a different battle altogether. But that’s for a different blog post.