This blog originally appeared on the Cambridge Association for Women in Science and Engineering website.
In my previous blog I discussed how women can help male leaders to realise the value of their individual strengths and the potential for diversifying their work force beyond the usual range of characteristics that they look for. This article goes on to look at how we changed our recruitment process in light of this new realisation, and the dramatic results that followed.
We started with increasing our ability to understand what mattered to various people in their professional careers. We split the problem into three steps: recruitment, retention, and promotion. It rapidly became obvious that we had to start at the first of these, and then shift focus upwards as the benefits moved up through the company.
We introduced several changes to our recruitment process. Adverts were updated to remove gendered language. For example, saying “We are looking for candidates with outstanding technical skills” seemed just an honest request to me, but I came to realise that some really good candidates would be put off because they weren’t confident that they would meet the requirement. All candidates were given a guidance document to help them prepare. Upon arrival, they got a tour by a member of staff similar to themselves who could act as a role model. Candidates were asked to start talking about one of their own projects, to help get into the swing of the interview before tackling the more challenging technical questions. We spoke at more length in the interview about the many training and mentoring opportunities at our company.
All this was progress in the right direction, but it didn’t really get to the root of the problem, which was insufficient applications from women. If they don’t apply, we can’t offer them jobs. So our focus turned to how to get more women to apply for our jobs.
We started a ‘Women in Technical Consultancy’ scheme, with the aim of reaching out in a personal way to potential applicants. The key attribute of this scheme is a variety of soft ways to get to know the company before taking the step of applying and coming for interview. For example, applicants are welcome to have an informal phone call, or drop by for coffee and a look around. We give talks at the university and hold open evenings at our labs. There are internship options as a possible first step to something longer-term, and there is the potential for 6 – 18 month placements. The literature for the scheme also makes prominent reference to some of the great features of our company: our ethical policy, STEM and outreach work, focus on learning. Every person in our company loves these features, male and female alike, so why not make it known in a way that attracts candidates?
The scheme has been a satisfying success. Applications from women grew every year, starting originally at 13% and rising, four years later, to 33%. And so now that we’ve got many more applying, and a great interview process, we are starting to get some cracking members of staff joining us thanks to this initiative. With that part of the process showing results, we are able to move onto the later stages of retainment and promotion. I’m looking forward to that challenge!
The key to this success is for the manager to put themselves inside the heads of the candidates. It is really not that difficult, if only the manager has a sufficiently open mind to give it a try, which many don’t. I tend to think of it like this: applying for a job is scary. You might be asked things you don’t know. You might be rejected. You might make a silly mistake. We can all relate to that, men and women alike. So by making the application process a little gentler, and allowing confidence to build steadily over several touch points, candidates are more able to perform at their best. This is a good thing for all candidates, and helps us get high quality people including those who were always good enough, but find it hard to prove in the interview.