Gender diversity in senior roles is a topic of increasing importance in the business world, with women still significantly underrepresented in leadership positions

The latest findings show women comprise just over 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs, a disappointing all-time high. There is also a lack of media representation for gender-diverse entrepreneurs across prominent business publications. For example, just 17% of Forbes magazine covers featured female entrepreneurs.

This lack of gender diversity not only limits opportunities for talented individuals to advance into senior roles but can negatively impact a company’s performance and reputation.

I discuss some effective recruitment strategies that businesses can adopt to overcome the barriers to gender diversity in leadership and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Switching up job descriptions

The job description is usually the first interaction a prospective employee will have with their employer. Yet the language of job descriptions is often overlooked and can put off valuable talent before they even apply.

One study found that 96% of FSTE 100 companies used gender-biased language in their job adverts. Teachers, HR, and administrative roles were the professions found to be most ‘feminine-coded’.

To avoid alienating candidates from different demographics, businesses should take a closer look at the type of language used in job descriptions. Avoid agentic language with masculine-associated traits such as ‘dominant’ or ‘competitive’.

Additionally, business leaders should consider how language could isolate other demographics; for example, describing the ideal candidate as ‘energetic’ or ‘vibrant’ could be interpreted as ageist and dissuade older applicants. Instead, take care to keep job descriptions neutral for the greatest appeal.

Regulate interview processes

The interview is not only the candidate’s chance to make a good first impression, but it also sets the tone for how prospective employees can expect to be treated in the workplace.

Getting it wrong could harm a company’s chance of securing top talent, particularly if the questions are inappropriate. One company’s unusual approach to interviewing applicants even recently made headlines after going viral online for asking a female candidate: ‘How do you feel your life has worked out for you so far?’

Unfortunately, this incident is not uncommon, with one study finding women are more than three times as likely to be asked awkward interview questions. Reviewing interview processes and standardising these across all candidates, i.e. by asking candidates the same questions and assessing based on skillset over gut feeling, can help recruiters avoid unconscious bias and ensure inclusivity.

Broaden hiring committees

Biases are often inevitable. This is why having more than one person involved at each stage of the screening process can help alleviate unconscious bias, particularly if businesses can create diversity among recruiters.
For larger enterprises, a broader internal hiring board will alleviate some of the biases fewer people may hold when selecting candidates. Hiring panels should ideally include a variety of genders, educational levels, and socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Analyse internal data

Collecting data can reveal your company’s true diversity landscape and show where recruiters need to concentrate efforts. Analysing recruitment records and pinpointing key traits of successful applicants can identify if there is an unnatural preference for a certain demographic that may influence the type of candidates being short-listed.

The same is true for employees at a performance level, where gender bias may influence more favourable performance reviews for workers of a certain demographic.
It can be easy to rely on emotions or ‘gut feeling’ during the recruitment process. But data can help strip back the narrative and provide clarity over any biases that may be occurring.

Improve pay equality

Beyond hiring processes, businesses should address inequalities at senior levels to attract top talent. Specifically, unfair pay schemes continue to hinder women from achieving senior roles.

On average, women work for free for 54 days

According to recent reports, the UK’s national gender pay gap widened in 2021 to 14.4%. Another study found that, on average, women work for free for 54 days. This figure widens dramatically after women have children and are most prevalent in women over 50.

Evaluating your company’s current pay structure can identify any possible discrepancies. Businesses can gain acknowledge any patterns, inconsistent policies or obvious biases that may be happening by calculating compensation trends, enabling business leaders to fix issues accordingly.

A more progressive compensation system that reflects equal pay across the same roles will always help contribute to a fairer and more inclusive work environment, allowing women and other underrepresented minorities to excel in their careers.


Written by Katie Howard, Director at New Street Consulting Group


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