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The Team at Laudale

Alec Laurie
Alec Laurie
Managing Director

Building a gender balanced shortlist: do these 5 things (but don’t stop there)

Enhanced diversity = enhanced performance.

Everyone should want a gender balanced business. The benefits of diversity to performance are no longer up for debate.

And let’s assume the recent increase in mainstream flexible working can decrease barriers for women longer-term.

What an opportunity that creates to level the gender playing field in a post-Covid World.

The importance of your shortlist.

Building a gender balanced shortlist is a starting point. And even the most traditional businesses are waking up to this.

For example, a third of signatories of the Women in Finance Charter now concentrate on gender diverse shortlists.

The Charter’s 2019 annual review highlights Lloyds Banking Group. LBG monitored the impact of diverse shortlists. They found the proportion of female external hires rose from 28% to 36% in the 5 years to 2019.

Signatories of the TechTalent Charter (TTC) have reported similar results. Of companies with targets for gender balanced shortlists, 64% were above the national average (16.4%) for women in technical roles.

But please… no ‘token women’.

TTC also warns against tokenism, citing this research.

One woman on a shortlist of four has statistically zero chance of landing the role.

By adding one more woman to the shortlist, you inflate those odds.

Gender Balance: The relationship between finalist pools and actual hiring decisions.


Start with these 5 things to build a gender balanced shortlist.

When creating a shortlist, break activities down into three groups. Activities linked to finding talent, to attracting talent, and to selecting talent.

Once you have this clear mental delineation it’s easier to take action.

1) Start by researching your target market (finding).

Whether you do this in-house or work with an external partner, this is the foundational step.

How gender balanced is this role in the candidate market? i.e. Marketing Directors might be more ‘balanced’ than IT Directors. Set expectations and plan according to these findings.

Who are the key bodies and networks focussed on gender equality in this candidate market? How can you access them? Where do these candidates work/live/spend their time… what do they read/watch/attend? Etc.

 2) Communicate the right message in the right place (finding/attracting).

Ensure your message a) resonates with and b) reaches the right people.

Don’t just stick a half-hearted advert out. Tell your company’s story and why diverse candidates should consider working with you.

Use video, blogs, podcasts, in-person messages (i.e. at events), whatever. Diversify your media and your outreach. i.e. How can you work with the ‘gender equality networks’ you identified in point 1?

3) Code your message effectively (attracting).

Think about the language of the average job advert. ‘Challenging’ this, ‘leadership’ that, ‘driven’ the other. These are all masculine-coded words.

Gaucher, Friesen, and Kay (2011) found that when job adverts included more masculine than feminine words, they were less appealing to women.

These findings inspired the widely used (and free) Gender Decoder for Job Ads, by Kat Matfield. And there are now many of these tools available built on varying degrees of rigour.

4) Diversify your interview panel (selecting).

“We’re committed to gender diversity. Meet our interviewers, Brian, Phil and Steve”. That doesn’t quite work, does it?

And, whether we like it or not, unconscious bias affects us all. Curb its impact by diversifying your interview panel.

Many firms are now making diverse interview panels mandatory.

5) Make this all habitual.

You won’t see the full benefit of these actions on a one-off basis. Nor if you ‘dust them off’ for each vacancy. But, if the above becomes standard practice, then you’re on the right track.

Engaging with your target talent market should be continuous.

Network, build relationships with the right industry bodies, invest, sponsor, create opportunities. Build a returners programme or work with a third party. Inspire the next generation – support local schools and communities. And keep it all up.

As noted in my opening, the barriers for women can fall with the rise of more flexible working. Make the most of this opportunity to enhance gender diversity.

And, in doing so, enhance business performance.


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