How to Spot Gender Bias When You’re Hiring

Accenture and GE Are Setting New Standards for Workplace Equality

Improving gender equality is a priority for many major companies, including Accenture and General Electric. As they’ve demonstrated, attention to equality should begin even before employees enter the workplace; starting with fair hiring practices.

General Electric recently announced that it will employ 20,000 women in STEM jobs by 2020. This comes after they published results from a study that found unsettling statistics about workplace equality. In this white paper, they reported that women account for only 14% of all engineers and approximately 25% of IT jobs. This is especially evident among some of the major tech giants, with women comprising only 13–24% of the tech-related jobs. GE set goals for a 50:50 gender representation for all technical entry-level programs moving forward, which they claim is “necessary to inject urgency into addressing the ongoing gender imbalance in technical fields.”

Accenture publicized similar goals, announcing that they have been moving toward gender equality. They reported that they’ve already surpassed their 2017 goal to “reach 40% women new hires worldwide by 2017.” Part of their global strategy to bring gender equality into their organization involves increasing their global workforce to include over 150,000 women. This is a strategy that many corporations are using as the realities of inequity in hiring become harder to ignore.

Subtle but Unequal Barriers for Women

Some HR practices are set up with seemingly innocent barriers to entry for women.

The Harvard Business Review recently studied audio recordings of venture capitalists reacting to entrepreneurs asking for funding and found the results differed depending on the gender of the entrepreneur. When Swedish government VCs appraised male entrepreneurs, they used the phrase “young and promising,” while “young, but inexperienced” was used to describe the women. The male entrepreneurs applying for funding were described as “cautious, sensible and level-headed,” whereas “too cautious and does not dare” was used for the female applicants.

Sometimes identical qualities can be seen through an unequal lens in hiring, and this could be holding you back from achieving gender equality. Companies should examine the language they use in job postings and evaluations, and seek to eliminate words and phrasing that downplay women’s strengths or discourage them from applying.

Tips for Smarter and Fairer Interviews

Studies have shown that while men typically amplify their abilities in an interview, women tend to downplay theirs. Companies can avoid this path to inequity by conducting fairer interviews. Here are some strategies:

  1. Don’t rely on a manager to simply “get a feel” for a candidate by asking arbitrary questions. Use a list of standardized questions and prompts delivered in the same order to ensure that each candidate has equal opportunity to exhibit their qualifications regardless of gender.
  2. Use a diverse panel of evaluators. Prospective clients of varying backgrounds will likely be drawn to your company if they see a multicultural cast of interviewers. This can also deter gender and cultural selection biases.
  3. Use software to prevent prejudice by hiding demographical information when reviewing applications. Accenture waits until right before they make an offer of employment to present an employee the official application form that asks demographical information.

Related post: read Speexx’s take on performance reviews >

Training Senior Leadership

Senior management needs to know about the legal implications associated with gender discrimination, as well as all of the positive aspects of workplace equality. A training program that teaches the benefits of having women in the workplace is worth the resources and can protect your company from lawsuits.

Additionally, organizations with diverse boards and senior leadership teams may outperform competitors. These leaders should encourage the granting of opportunity to those who haven’t had the chance to prove themselves before. “At all of GE’s Global Operations sites, our interest in people who take risks is matched by a willingness to take risks on others,” a GE executive recently told Fast Company. “We’re more likely than we’ve ever been to hire someone who fits our culture and shows promise, even if they aren’t traditionally ‘qualified.’”

The Benefits of Equality

Companies like Accenture and GE know that hiring equity is more than just an ethical duty. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that more gender diverse companies performed 53% better than lesser ones, showing a 35% increase in ROE (return on equity) and a 34% increase in total returns. MIT economists found that a gender shift could even increase revenue by 41%. What are you doing to promote and encourage equal hiring at your company? Take a look at your internal hiring practices and ensure that you’re capitalizing on the benefits of having an equal gender split among your employees.

Are you keeping all your employees happy and engaged? Check your HR Net Promoter score to find out.

At Speexx, we recommend providing the same opportunities for everyone in your workforce—starting with language training.

Learn more about recruiting in the modern era of hiring by downloading this Speexx White Paper

Photo credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock Inc.

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About the Author:

Armin is Founder and President of Speexx, the world’s leading online language learning and business communication skills training service. He writes and occasionally speaks about learning languages online and the secret of the Perfect Blend and global talent management, Speexx, e-learning and generally believes in the power of communication. Follow Armin on Twitter and LinkedIn.