3 Nudges that help attract and progress women

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day with our blog about gender equity. In this blog, I offer practical guidance on what organisations can do to attract and progress more women.

     1. The ‘why not?’ approach
Often, those who don’t represent the ‘typical’ employee are often judged on their performance through a biased lens.   Women, for instance, often experience being part of a ‘riskier’ pool of candidates when it comes to promotion.  This is because women tend to be judged on experience rather than on potential in the way men are.

To avoid biased tendencies such as this, change the default approach and think instead that all the candidates are amply qualified for the promotion, and then go through the merits of promoting each candidate from a ‘why not?’ perspective.  In this way, the female candidates in the mix will not have to be proven as qualified, they will need to be proven as unqualified for the promotion, just like their male peers.  This approach will help broaden the pool of candidates and make it more likely that the less typical candidates will be evaluated more objectively.

     2. Interview in small groups
To hire as many diverse people as possible, the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games interviewed candidates in small groups, giving them tasks to accomplish that would demonstrate the requisite skills. The outcome to this approach led to the most diverse workforce in the history of the modern Olympics.

This intervention is particularly helpful when filling several roles.  If, for instance, you’re looking to hire 4 people, with a diverse list of 24, you could assess 3 groups of 8, picking out 4 per group.  Then, in a second round with a shortlist of 12, assess 6 candidates in 2 groups, picking 2 final candidates from each.

Interviewing in this way ensures that candidates are observed for their skills, avoiding stereotypes and other biases that tend to creep into one-to-one interviews.

     3. Justifying a non-diverse candidate recommendation
I often hear senior leaders recount scenarios where, having done everything they know to avoid biased assessments, when it came to choosing between two final candidates – one male and one female – the male candidate won out.

To ensure the final decision is free of bias, ask the decision makers who recommended the final candidate to justify on what grounds the OTHER candidate wasn’t suitable for the hire or promotion.  Ask what facts and data were used in the final assessment that disqualified the losing candidate over the other.  Even in cases where the final decision is entirely justifiable, it is often the case that looking at the other candidate in this more objective way might uncover other opportunities for them.

Knowing in advance that the hiring/promotion panel will have to justify their reasons not to recommend the minority candidate ensures a more reflective thought process. This is because when people know that their decision will be reviewed, they tend to be more meticulous in making it.  This more thorough, reflective process results in a more objective approach that minimises the effect of unconscious bias.

Minimising Bias

Although not all these interventions might be suitable to your particular needs, it’s worth knowing that there are many ways in which to identify and minimise bias in the process of attracting and progressing people from underrepresented groups.  The above three nudges are included in the book Inclusion Nudges by Lisa Kempinski and Tinna C. Nielsen.  Other fantastic free resources include the Bias Interrupters website, based on the research by Joan Williams which is summarised in her recent book Bias Interrupted.

Of course, reading about how to disrupt bias and implementing the guidelines in your organisation are two very different propositions.  So, if you need help identifying and addressing systemic bias in your organisation, be sure to reach out to us.  We have successfully helped many clients recognise, acknowledge and address bias in several employee life-cycle processes (such as attraction, recruitment and progression). We can help you with yours, as well.