To attain gender parity in the corporate workplace, it is very important to examine factors that have been contributing to this imbalance. In this research article I will be:
- drawing a comparison between a man and a woman, in terms of the traits that are mostly preferred by hiring companies.
- taking a look at the talent pool from where potential employees are selected.
- presenting a research based assessment on ‘who is hired more?’.
This article has been compiled after researching results from recent industry reports and taking a look at the longstanding trends. Five Corporate Professionals at Senior Managerial Levels were also interviewed to gain their insights. These include (in alphabetical order) Ali Nadeem, Head of Programme Design (Partnership Schools) at The Citizens Foundation, Pakistan; Hadi Hassan Ali, Manager, Transformation and Culture at a Multinational Corporation, Pakistan; Sanober Abdullah, Senior Manager, Market Research at The Aga Khan University Hospital, Pakistan; Tazeen Saleem, Head of Portfolio and Project Management at The Citizens Foundation,Pakistan and Mnal Taimur, Talent Acquisition Manager at The Citizens Foundation, Pakistan.
Who is More Hirable?
Hirability of an individual implies their capability of being selected for a job. To compare the hirability of a man against a woman and vice versa, we need to identify benchmarks against which their capabilities can be measured. The evaluation criteria developed by workable.com encourages companies to assess 5 major facets of the candidates they are considering for hiring: self-motivation and employee independence; communication skills; global mindset; command over technology and mobility.
1. Self-Motivation and Employee Independence
Gender plays a significant role in determining levels of motivation and therefore, we need to understand the factors that reinforce employees’ work behavior based on their gender.
Men seem to be motivated more by “instrumental values” such as salaries or bonuses, whereas women seem to prefer “softer issues” like for example inter-personal relationships, acknowledgement or respect.
Men more than women prefer opportunities for earnings, promotion, freedom, challenge, leadership, and power. Women more than men value interpersonal relationships, helping others and also prefer good hours and an easy commute, which suggests a desire for greater flexibility and balance.
In a study examining agentic and communal goals, the majority of women (60.2%) rated communal goals (including intimacy, affiliation and altruism) as more important than agentic goals. The majority of men (61.6%) rated agentic goals (including power, achievement and excitement) as more important.
In these findings, there is a consistent observation that while men are ambitious enough to work alone towards achieving goals, it is very important for women to progress as a team. The importance given to maintaining inter-personal relationships by women, may be seen as a deterrent in working independently, especially if the employer is remotely located.
In addition, women may at times feel comfortable in learning from and with their team, to gain a collective understanding of the task at hand. This attitude may not be seen as productively beneficial when there is a time constraint.
Sanober Abdullah, Senior Manager, Market Research at The Aga Khan University Hospital, says that she would, “prefer candidates who have ‘the ability to process and respond to information quickly’, without the need to be spoon-fed”.
Mnal Taimur, Talent Acquisition Manager at The Citizens Foundation also prefers her employees to be “self-starters.”
This implies a level of employee independence where an individual can not only take lead, but also keep track of their projects and be accountable for them.
Ali Nadeem, Head of Programme Design (Partnership Schools) at The Citizens Foundation also cites that, “one of the things I look for in a potential candidate is the presence of an internal locus of control”.
These are the qualities of a leader. Evidence has been found for a stereotype threat that limits women’s self-views as leaders and undermines their leadership aspirations. Women may simply choose not to participate where they perceive they do not fit in. Research also points to the importance of gender role orientation and social pressure toward gender role conformity (e.g., male-agentic versus female-communal behaviors) in leadership positions.
Women, therefore, may have lowered levels of self-motivation where they don’t feel part of a team or believe they are not culturally fit for the organization. Moreover, men exhibit a high tendency to work alone, which may be preferred by companies that are looking for employees who can be remotely managed.
2. Communication Skills
Women have the edge in collaborative environments where listening skills, inclusive body language and empathy are more highly valued.
Mnal Taimur, Talent Acquisition Manager, says that she prefers to hire females because of the need for collaboration across The Citizens Foundation’s network of schools, including the the importance placed on effective team-building between the Principals, Teachers and the Head Office.
Men on the other hand are thought to “take charge” more readily and viewed as more effective in environments where decisiveness is critical.
To understand the process of communication, we need to assess it at every stage that may either strengthen or weaken it. Effective communication process is composed of 5 stages namely: encoding, sending, receiving, decoding and feedback.
Findings conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and published in The Journal of Neuroscience show that women possess higher levels of a “language protein” (the gene, FOXP2 which is considered essential for the production of speech) in their brains. This allows women to have a greater capacity for speaking and deliver messages more eloquently.
In addition, women tend to be more proficient than men at nonverbal decoding. In a meta-analysis of 61 relevant studies, J. A. Hall found that women were more accurate decoders than men. Women’s success at decoding may be due to the high priority they tend to place on relationship development.
Women are also seen to be slightly more supportive and better listeners. In a 2006 study by Copernicus and Brandweek Magazine (“Discovery of the Month”, 2006), 57% of the people surveyed considered women to be better listeners. Both male and female subordinates report higher morale and job satisfaction when supervised by a woman.
With an increased vocabulary and command over encoding messages, high proficiency over non-verbal decoding and display of empathy, women seem to have better communication skills than men.
3. Presence of a Global Mindset
According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, a Global Mindset is the ability to adjust to different environments and cultures internationally. In today’s globalized world, leading teams of different nationalities, mastering intercultural business requirements and heading businesses operating across different countries appear to be major keys to success.
According to the book “Growing Global Executives: The New Competencies” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid, emerging leaders are in want of two core competencies: the ability to calibrate their leadership presence to project credibility to superiors at headquarters as well as stakeholders worldwide; and the ability to unlock value from globally dispersed and culturally diverse teams through inclusive leadership. This is called “pivoting”. In the U.S. and the UK, for example, rising leaders should demonstrate authority, whereas with subordinates, superiors, and clients in Asia, rising leaders should demonstrate emotional intelligence. Mastery of this “double pivot” translates into measurable career traction.
But while pivoting may allow both males and females to indulge in developing a Global Mindset, women often seem to miss out on opportunities to master this ability.
To develop such a mindset, it is very important that an individual is mentored that way. Women are most often not considered for a gendered approach to professional development. Although, women receive the same level of mentoring as males, it differs in type. The help given to males is instrumental (for instance, career advice or contacts), while that given to women is socio-emotional. This is mainly because males are largely mentored by males, and women mentored by women who give socio-political help. This inhibits authentic collaboration across cultures.
However, this does not mean that women are incapable of exhibiting a Global Mindset. A research conducted in China revealed a major strength of Chinese women in top management functions (in multinational companies), in having the capability to “move between cultures”.
Both men and women have the capacity to showcase a Global Mindset, to avoid being subjugated by alien cultures, or dealing with people from diverse backgrounds. However, women are not given ample opportunities and lack access to professional training that is capable of helping them hone a Global Mindset.
4. Proficient Use of Technology/Tech-Savviness
Regarding attitudes toward technology, there are no major gender differences in the actual abilities to locate online content in an effective and efficient way. However, women perceive that their abilities are significantly lower than men, which eventually may affect their motivation and online behavior. Similarly, while women’s interest in computers and technology has increased, they still feel more uncomfortable with technology than men.
It should also be noted that fewer women than men graduate from college with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, areas that directly relate to the hard sciences) degrees. This automatically decreases the number of women, competent enough to be measured against this evaluation criteria.
Further, over half the population in developed countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development economies have no digital skills at all – with female employees usually being less tech savvy than their male counterparts.
Women lag behind men in the ownership of technology and the development of technological skills. There are also cultural and psychological factors that may constrain women, from using technologies even when they have access.
5. Legal Permission to Work in a Country
During the hiring process, employers are also looking at the career transition of a candidate. This may include relocation of the potential candidate to different countries around the globe, recognizing the countries’ laws and whether the candidate will be legally permitted to work in the county or not.
The World Bank says there are 104 economies with labor laws that restrict the types of jobs women can undertake, and when and where they are permitted to work. In 18 countries, women still need their husband’s permission to get a job. Even outside these countries, where there are no legal limitations, there are many countries that have cultural and social barriers that discourage women from working.
The barriers to mobility negatively affect the choice of women to apply for a job or engage in the corporate workforce.
Assessing the Talent Pool
More important than evaluating the capacity of a particular gender, is looking at the talent pool and how it may be skewed in favor of either men or women.
In some cases, there is a smaller pool of women candidates to choose from. Hadi Hassan Ali, Manager, Transformation and Culture, says that, “at any given time, the organization has an increased number of resumes from male candidates. However, amongst those, the top candidates are chosen, and the number is matched with the resumes from female candidates.” These female candidates may then, be not be as qualified as the top male candidates rounded up.
The limited number of female candidates can limit a company’s ability to hire more women when they are looking to fill the position quickly. This phenomenon has been observed quite often, the reasons for which can be categorized.
Under-Representation of Women in Corporate Roles
The World Economic Forum highlights 3 primary reasons for gender disparity in the labor force: women have greater representation in roles that are being automated; not enough women are entering professions where wage growth is the most pronounced (most obviously, but not exclusively, technology), and women face the perennial problem of insufficient care infrastructure and access to capital.
- With the increasing trend towards the automation of jobs, and in some instances even their replacement by artificial intelligence (AI), there has been an increasing concern that women more than men are being adversely affected. PwC has estimated that female workers could be relatively harder hit in early waves of automation that apply, for example, to clerical roles. This picture changes over medium-term. As new AI capabilities will develop, such as self-driving technologies, more men than women will be affected by job changes between the late 2020s and the mid 2030s. While in the short term, women will be affected, in the medium to long-run men are also expected to feel the effects of automation equally. However, unless organizational efforts are made to diminish gender stereotyping in occupations and professions, and encourage equal gender representation, women will need to make far more significant transitions compared to men and may find it more difficult to capture new opportunities because of the persistent barriers they face.
- Women earn significantly lower than men even when hired in the same industry. This wage gap (difference in earnings between men and women) varies considerably depending on occupation and tends to be greater in the more elite, higher paying occupations. This inequality in salary might be discouraging women’s choice to venture into the workforce. In a study it was found that women were asking for only 85% and 92% of the salaries men were expecting in corporate and startup jobs. This goes to show that women are aware of the discrimination that is already present, and may not see engaging in work worthy of their efforts and time.
The Global Gender Gap Report also notes, historically female-dominated industries tend to pay less than those with higher male representation. When women enter a profession in large numbers, pay tends to decrease relative to other industries.
- Many a times women do not receive the support system they may require once they start working. This compels them to weigh the decision to work against their ability to manage multiple roles (including that of a wife or mother). The choice to work is then impacted by family obligations. In addition, motherhood has a tremendous negative lifetime impact on earnings, a long-term gender-earnings gap. This is a concept known as the motherhood penalty. Mothers suffer a penalty relative to non-mothers and men in the form of lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower recommended salaries. This evidence implies that being a mother leads to discrimination in the workplace.
Broken Rung Effect
According to McKinsey & Company’s Report, Women in the Workplace 2019, for every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. This discrepancy is known as the “broken rung” effect. If women are not being promoted at the same rate as men, it results in more women staying stuck at entry level and lower management roles. This early inequality has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline. If there is already an increased number of women at the entry level, companies will not make an effort to add more female employees to their workforce. At every managerial level, this number decreases.
According to LinkedIn Behavioral Data, women tend to apply to 20% fewer jobs than men. Women are also are more hesitant to ask for a referral from somebody they know at the company. The data supports that women only apply when they feel extremely qualified, which means that they are not pursuing stretch opportunities, which are critical for developing leadership talent and may pay more at times.
Further statistical analysis reveal that, not only do women view 20% fewer jobs than men, but they also appear less likely to apply after viewing a job.
There is also the need for women to be thorough while applying for a job. Research shows that in order to apply for a job women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria while men usually apply after meeting about 60%.
Who is Hired More?
According to the World Economic Forum’s Report, ‘The key to closing the gender gap? Putting more women in charge’, when women are better represented in leadership roles, more women are hired across the board. This holds true even when considering disparities in the size of female talent pools across industries.
This is not an unusual phenomenon. According to studies, the most common mechanism by which a candidate was evaluated was their similarity to their interviewer. This phenomenon is called the “looking glass merit”. Coined by Lauren Rivera at the Kellogg School of Management, this term refers to a case where interviewers favor candidates who remind them of themselves. The prevalence of this practice was validated by all of the 5 subjects who were interviewed for this research.
Tazeen Saleem, Head of Portfolio and Project Management at The Citizens Foundation says that, “I want someone who is grounded and not flashy, which is basically my organizational type. Majority of the people working here are like that, the people who run the organization are like that”.
Sanober Abdullah, Market Research Senior Manager, at The Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan, nods to the concept and while understanding this is a bias, she says that, “you are looking for a role that is similar to your own, or is for your function. If you have been successful in your role, then you look for someone similar to you. However, if you are hiring for a role different from your own, then you are more open and are willing to trade qualities”. She further adds that, “The Aga Khan University Hospital attracts women because it is considered safe, respectable, true to its values and with a significant number of women in leadership”.
A survey of 279 female entrepreneurs conducted by Inc. and Fast Company found that women founders are disproportionately likely to hire other women. On average, these businesses have workforces that are 66 percent female. At the same time, Silicon Valley tech companies are famously male: One analysis of 23 large tech companies found that only about 36 percent of employees are female.
Hadi Hassan Ali, Manager, Transformation and Culture, says that, “culturally fit is ranked quite high when it comes to recruitment”.
Mnal Taimur, recalls that when she was working at an agency that required employees to meet critical deadlines and conduct late sittings, majority of the employees that were hired were men.
Representation of gender in leadership roles then has a high impact in the way hiring will be done across multiple managerial levels.
However, women are 36% more likely to be hired than men when they decide to apply for a job. Hiring trends observed by Movemeon reveal that compared to men, women are less likely to view a job and then apply. However, once they do submit their applications, the conversion to interview was 12% higher for women. Women are also 24% more likely to be offered a job after having been interviewed. Women also perform better at these interviews. Their results reveal that each application made by a woman is 35% more likely to result in a job hire than a man.
This is also an observation revealed by Ali Nadeem who says that, “while at the application stage we receive a proportionate number of applications from either gender, our rigorous recruitment process is often seen as difficult to follow through by a majority of men. Women tend to be more responsive and responsible, and revert timely”.
With the issue of gender disparity now coming to light in recent times, companies are making an effort to reduce the bias. Hadi Hassan Ali says that his organization has a mandate to split the employee pool 50/50 in favor of each gender.
A majority of college graduates and working individuals believe that they have an equal opportunity to be selected for a hiring or promotion. However, they are less convinced the system is fair for everyone. Fewer thanhalf of women and men think the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees, and fewer than a quarter say that only the most qualified candidates are promoted to manager. On both fronts, women are less optimistic than men.