Talking menopause in the workplace

Natalie LeisterAs Chair of Southeastern’s Women in Rail Empowerment (WIRE) group, Natalie Leister has spearheaded an initiative to raise awareness of menopause symptoms and provide greater support for employees impacted. She discusses what has been implemented, her learnings and why it’s so important for other employers to follow suit.

Breaking the stigma

Nearly two-thirds of women in the workplace experiencing the menopause say it has a negative impact on their work, citing issues such as reduced concentration, increased stress, confusion and a lack of confidence. Yet only 5 percent of UK businesses have a dedicated menopause policy.

“Menopause has just been that taboo topic that nobody talks about – not even your Mum!” says Leister. “Your mother talks to you about going through puberty and childbirth, but not about this. Yet it’s a natural phase in a woman’s life – the conversation needs to be normalised.”

With more women increasingly going through the menopause during their working lives, the consequences of organisations shying away from the topic and not providing adequate support are proving more pronounced, she says.

“We want to be able to attract a diverse team. But if women experiencing the menopause aren’t able to access the right support in the workplace, they’re not going to apply or they might consider early retirement. It can be a real career killer.”

Starting the menopause conversation

When Southeastern’s WIRE group was formed in late-2018, one of the first issues raised was the menopause.

“I went out and spoke to staff and managers and was surprised to find a number of women and men suffering with this in silence. People were experiencing symptoms, struggling from a lack of knowledge, and it was impacting home lives and stress levels. I realised it was quite a big issue and something we needed to provide support on.”

In September 2019, Southeastern marked Menopause Awareness Month and National Inclusion Week by running a series of manager and colleague menopause awareness sessions, facilitated by Deborah Garlick from Henpicked, a network for women over 40. Each session explained the facts about menopause, and advised how to have sensitive conversations with employees experiencing symptoms.

“It was great to see the amount of people who attended the sessions. Everybody said they took something from it and many have said they now feel comfortable having that conversation with their manager, employee, doctor, husband, wife, colleague or friend.”

One Southeastern employee who benefited was On Board Manager Richard Cheesman, who attended a session with his wife Carol. He says: “I was one of those men who would step back and keep out of the way. I now know a lot more about why certain things happen, so I am more thoughtful about what I say. I’m also much more aware of the help that’s out there if needed – both at work and beyond.”

Cheesman’s wife Carol adds: “Richard now better understands what I’m going through. It’s great that Southeastern is talking about things like this.”

For Leister, after a full week of running awareness sessions, she went home feeling like she’d really made a difference.

“The positive engagement we got from the sessions was fantastic and it has created a snowball effect, shifting how the menopause is perceived within the company. To me, that’s a tale of success.”


Tips for creating a menopause-friendly workplace

Leister’s tips for implementing menopause awareness and support programs within the workplace are:

1. Be honest and open

“Not everyone will feel comfortable talking about the subject – acknowledge that. By being honest and open, you’re creating a safe environment to have the conversation.”

2. Position it as an awareness exercise

“Our managers aren’t doctors. All of our communications acknowledged that this was an awareness piece, we didn’t expect them to know the ins and outs of the subject. It was just about providing some knowledge and knowing how to start the conversation.”

3. Make sure there’s the follow up

“It’s important to keep the conversation going. Our awareness sessions were followed up by internal communications, toolkits for managers and a formal menopause policy, as well as providing desk fans, flexible working conditions and breathable uniforms. We’re also currently looking at online training. This not only helps people access information ongoing, but shows the business is really committed to this.”

Encouraging women into the railways

Leister has been in the rail industry for 10 years and loves that it’s a sector where you can truly make an impact, especially in her job as an Area Manager, in which she’s responsible for 42 train stations and 240 staff.

“I can really make a positive difference to somebody’s day. Particularly at Southeastern, you have a voice and are empowered to influence change and speak up with new ideas.”

It was this desire to make a difference that led her to become involved with the WIRE group, along with a sense of duty to promote the great career paths for women within the rail industry.

“I hear so many women say, ‘On no, I wouldn’t work for the railway, that’s a male job’ – that’s the mindset we want to change. This is a great company and industry to work for. We’ve got some fantastic, inspirational women in the railway. It’s a privilege to be able to champion them and encourage more women into the railways.”



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Hidden bias: How companies can tackle unfair recruitment practices

Fingers pushing down one side of the scalesDespite anti-discrimination laws, recruiter bias is as prevalent now as it was 50 years ago, and prejudices about gender, ethnicity and age are limiting people’s job prospects. The knock-on effects on society and business are serious, so what can recruiters do to reduce the effect of implicit bias on who gets hired?

The bias crisis: what’s in a name?

Writing the perfect CV isn’t easy. Each word must be carefully chosen to maximise the chances of landing your dream job. But what if the most important word in the document isn’t about your education, career history or experience but is simply your name?

Researchers at the Centre for Social Inequality in Oxford sent thousands of similar fake CVs to a wide range of employers. The only difference between  them was the applicant’s name and the inclusion of a second language, designed to signal the sender’s ethnicity. On average, people thought to be from ethnic minorities had to send 60% more CVs to get a similar chance of a call-back, despite having an identical cover letter and CV. The problem was particularly bad for fictitious candidates from majority Muslim countries. Despite Britain’s anti-discrimination laws, the report found a similar level of discrimination exists here, compared to other European countries, and almost no sign of progress compared to similar studies undertaken 50 years ago.

Other studies using the same methodology have found similar results for gender, with women being around 30% less likely to be contacted by recruiters. The discrimination is worse for male-associated jobs like engineering, or if the candidate has children. In science, this bias goes beyond merely getting hired: female students are penalised in university applications and men are awarded grants 1.4 times more often than women, despite applying for a similar number. And there’s evidence that recruiters discriminate against certain ages, overweight candidates (especially overweight women) and unattractive people.

The big impacts of a hidden problem

Biases in recruitment aren’t just harmful to candidates, but also to business and academia. A report from Royal Society Open Science argues that diverse teams are better problem solvers and decision makers. Humans are bad at detecting their own biases, but very good at spotting other peoples, so having a mixed group means these traps are more likely to be spotted. A diverse group are also more likely to come up with a wider range of solutions to any given issue, which increases the likelihood of finding the best one. According to a report from 2018, businesses with diverse senior management are 21% more likely to have above-average profits.

What can we do to level the playing field?

The UK’s anti-discrimination laws on their own are clearly not a solution to the problem, but there are measures and procedures companies can use to decrease bias.

Better job ads

Bias can start very early on in the recruitment process, meaning some demographics are less likely to even apply. Some research suggests it can help for companies to remove gender associated language from job descriptions. And words like ‘bright’, ‘bubbly’ or ‘dominant’ come with gender associated baggage that can make references for women read poorly compared to those for men.

Blind CVs

A seemingly simple solution is to remove things like names, genders and nationalities from CVs and grant applications, meaning people are reviewed solely on their qualities and abilities. Whilst some institutions have started doing this, most companies don’t, so some disadvantaged applicants have taken to using male names or ‘whitening’ their CVs to try to avoid being victims of bias. How much impact the blind CV approach can have depends a lot on the interview process. Whilst it’s hard to interview someone in person without finding out their age, gender or appearance, it is possible to include blinded skills assessments and even preliminary online interviews by text chat.

Diverse hiring committees

Another type of bias called ‘affinity bias’, where people want to hire people that remind them of themselves, also causes problem. A diverse hiring panel doesn’t just tackle affinity bias, it also puts diverse interviewees at ease. Technology company Intel implemented a rule that hiring panels needed at least two women and/or underrepresented communities, and the percentage of hires that were either women or people of colour went from 32% to 45%.

Staff training

Recruiter bias is usually implicit: recruiters aren’t consciously aware they’re choosing one gender or ethnicity over another, so simply making people aware of this might help reduce it. A study from 2015 found a two-and-a-half-hour workshop was enough to reduce the levels of implicit bias in participants, and a follow-up from 2017 found this had a significant impact on their departments’ hiring practices: they recruited more women. However, this is a single success story from a mountain of studies, and a 2017 meta-analysis found that, overall, there is little change in behaviour resulting from training. Implicit bias training isn’t a silver bullet, and a lot more research is required before we fully understand what works.

Using AI hiring tools

Some have suggested eliminating bias by eliminating the people: perhaps AI could be used to avoid stereotyping candidates. Amazon developed just such a machine learning programme using ten years’ worth of CVs, but it incorporated the biases inherent in its training data set and penalised any CVs with the word ‘women’s’ in it.

Where does this leave us?

The most important takeaway is that companies need to adopt an evidence-based approach to rooting out their biases, without blindly throwing money at the problem. While it’s unpalatable, admitting that every one of us has unconscious biases can be a good first step towards making personal changes. And at an institutional level, we need to draft new policies and procedures that mitigate our implicit biases and make the hiring process inherently fairer. Hopefully, the more we tackle the problem now, the easier it will be in future as diversity becomes the norm.

You can read more about hiring process and practice in our Advocacy and Policy section.

By Georgia Mills. 

Georgia Mills is a freelance science writer and podcast producer. She likes good wine, bad films and ugly dogs. Follow her on Twitter at @georgiamills2.

Writing better job ads

The language and appearance of your job ad can enhance its appeal to women, or it can put them off. How can you ensure women apply for your vacancies?

Research has shown that the way you write and design your jobs ads can significantly affect the balance of genders among applicants. Your choice of words, typeface and colour can make a difference to the kinds of candidates who can imagine themselves ‘at home’ in your organisation and, thus, who applies. This is not necessarily a conscious process, but these choices will affect whether you connect with a diverse applicant pool, and evidence from the tech industry shows the genderedness of the ad will affect whether you end up appointing a man or a woman.

A job ad advertises more than just the job. It represents the institutional culture of the employer, and gives an insight into the attitudes and values of the current staff. So when crafting an ad, you should:

  • Use gender-neutral language
  • Think about how you use photos, typefaces and colour
  • Be explicit about your commitment to employing women
  • Describe the activity of the advertised role, as well as the potential recruit
  • Use narrative descriptions, not lists of bullet points
  • Be flexible in what you require from applicants
  • Think of new forums where women are likely to see the ad

Use gender-neutral language

Firstly, and most obviously, avoid gendered job titles such as ‘chairman’, which should instead be ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’. Where neutral terms have strong gender associations, such as nurse or engineer, make sure that your pronouns are diverse and/or neutral, for example ‘she or he should be qualified to…’ , ‘the appointee will…’, ‘where they will find…’, or ‘you will be collaborating with teams across the organisation…’.

More subtle intimations of gender can be found in adjectives and verbs. ‘Our world- leading company has battled to achieve its present turnover of £400M’ looks masculine when compared to, for example, ‘Our global company now has the financial resources to solve…’. Competitive words, superlatives, military metaphors, big claims and factual detail attract male applicants and adversely put off women, while cooperative words (‘global’, rather than ‘world-leading’), more general information, and looking to the future, will appeal to women as well as men.

It is not uncommon for companies in male-dominated areas, such as tech company, to include details about the high status and successes in a job ad, and to use language like ‘rock stars’ and ‘ninja coders’, and how staff all ‘work hard and play hard’. Such ads do not get many female applicants. Few women will relate either to the masculine language or to the intimation that the company has no work-life balance. To attract female applicants, avoid superlatives, exaggerations, and be careful of how you describe life at your company, and ask a diverse group of colleagues whether they think your ad is women-friendly.

Think about typography, colour and photos

More subtly still, studies show that we make consistent judgements about whether a typeface is masculine or feminine: Masculine typography has a square or geometric form, and is emphatically either blunt or spiky. Serif fonts are also considered masculine, as is bold type and capitals. Feminine typography favours curling or flowing shapes, and avoids bold, serifs and capitals.

Colour also has an obvious gender bias. We associate pinks and purples, especially in combination, with girls and women, whilst blues and crimsons are strongly associated with boys and men. But men and women also have different colour preferences. Men tend to prefer intense primary colours and deeper colours, whilst women prefer pastel shades and tints (any colour with white added). Both genders like blue, and neither particularly like brown or orange. It can be helpful to leaf through some magazines that are aimed at either men or women, and compare them with your job ad to see whether you need to think again.

If your ad or HR marketing materials include photos, make sure that they include women and are ethnically diverse. Carefully check icons and other images to make sure that they are gender neutral, for example, avoid using a icon of a man to denote engineers or of a woman to denote nurses. Overtly masculine designs deter women, but strongly feminine designs for a technical job may be so unusual as to be baffling. The task therefore is to stay neutral.

Publicly commit to employing more women

It is possible to make explicit statements about wanting to increase the recruitment of women in your organisation, without breaking the law on discrimination. The law does allow you to say that applications from suitably qualified women are especially welcomed, and you can also make a commitment that all women who meet the essential criteria will be interviewed. You cannot say that you will only interview women. Equality legislation can be subtle, so ask HR for advice on what you can say about recruiting women.

Mentioning diversity-related policies, such as your flexible working, holiday allowance, or other family friendly benefits, will help attract women. Although all jobs should allow flexible working requests and give holidays, the fact that you have chosen to say so explicitly shows that you are thinking about the well-being of all your staff.

Focus on required qualities or skills

After studying a list of required qualities or skills for a job, a woman will not apply if she does not meet all of the requirements; men will apply if they have about two-thirds, and assume that they can make up for any deficiencies once they’re in the job. Their success rate is still high, which suggests that it’s common for companies to list ‘requirements’ that aren’t actually essential. Ask yourself why you have picked specific selection criteria, and consider whether they could skew your applicant pool. If you re-use a previous job description, be sure to check it point-by-point with current staff.

To diversify your recruitment, allow your candidates to say which of their attributes might be useful in the role. For example, you could ask for examples of successful problem-solving or planning, and you could encourage applicants to draw on their non- work experience to illustrate personal qualities. Especially for people in later career stages, this experience might be of greater value than that ‘essential’ first-class degree.

Write a narrative, not a list

Because we know that women will not apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria, job ads should avoid bullet points and lists which make it too easy for a woman to find the one requirement she does not meet and thus rule herself out of contention.

Instead, write a narrative description. Jobs described in terms of their activity, interactions, and potential within the company tend to attract women; those that focus on the individual employee attract men. Women want to know what they will be doing; men want to know what they will be.

Always ask some colleagues to read a job advertisement before you publish it. A group of friendly critics from a range of backgrounds can help you spot any bias while there is still time to amend the advertisement.

Publish your ad where women will see it

Since you aim to diversify, don’t just advertise in the usual places but seek new outlets where you can reach a broader pool of applicants. Look for groups supporting women in your field, as they may run a jobs board or mailing lists. You could also ask colleagues to proactively approach qualified women, internally and externally, to encourage them to apply, or seek out organisations that support women in STEM, and ask their advice on where to post your ad.

Job ads do not exist in a vacuum. Most applicants will look at the employer’s website, so make sure that you address all these issues in your recruitment and marketing materials as well. Your carefully neutral or women-friendly advertisement must not be too different from the style of the company in general, or you may come across as insincere, or at least inconsistent, in your attitudes to women employees.

Providing relocation support

Reading Riverside, Yiannis Theologos MichellStarting a new job in a new town can be a daunting experience for anyone. However, for women, whether established professionals or recent graduates, the stresses can be even greater. Women are more likely to have dependant relatives, so may be disrupting much more than their own life in order to take up your job offer. Paying attention to the broader needs of a woman’s partner and, potentially, family will take thought, time, effort and sometimes money. But it will also make you a much more attractive employer and will help to ensure that you really do hire and retain the best talent.

A prospective employer can therefore usefully think more broadly about relocation for women:

  • Understand graduate trends
  • Start providing information early
  • Offer relocation expenses
  • Provide advice on where to live
  • Allow time for settling in
  • Be flexible, fair and transparent

Understand graduate trends

Despite the widespread assumption that young women don’t have the same family responsibilities as older women and are actively seeking the excitement of a move to a new city, the vast majority of graduates actually look close to home for a job.

In its Futuretrack study, The Higher Education Career Services Unit asked students what factors played into their decisions regarding where they would look for employment and found that students prefer to stay in the area they grew up or studied. Indeed, the entire list was dominated by personal rather than professional considerations, including the needs of other family members, and being able to live with parents.

Futuretrack also found that only one in eight graduates is motivated primarily by money, so simply offering higher salaries will not change attitudes. If businesses wish to attract the best candidates, they have to make a powerful and compelling case for why women should go through the hassle and stress of relocation.

Start providing information early

When you advertise a job, advertise your location too. Find out what your current staff feel about where they live, and write a profile of the lifestyles available locally. Would a future employee be living in an apartment in town, or might there be homes they could afford in the countryside nearby? Is your area good for hiking or sailing? How well rated are local schools? Would a car be essential, or is there good public transport nearby? Is there an LGBT+ community? What local industries could provide a job for a partner?

It’s useful to include local info in your interview pack, especially useful websites that might encourage applicants to explore. You can also provide a mentor or HR staff member who can discuss personal needs with a new employee, so that she does not have to ask questions of her new colleagues that might make her feel uncomfortable.

While some of these questions could be answered by an internet search, giving candidates the benefit of your staff’s direct experience is not just invaluable, it also shows them that you understand their needs. If you have shortlisted candidates from outside the local area, offer them overnight expenses and facilitate a tour of the area, either with a suggestion of places to visit that they can access via public transport, or have a member of staff show them round.

Offer relocation expenses

Moving home can be expensive, especially for someone who has a break in their employment. Candidates may be part-way through a tenancy agreement on which they need to give notice, or may need to pay for temporary accommodation as well as a mortgage while their former home sells. You may be able to help by adjusting the new employee’s start date, but there will inevitably be costs. If you can, check what your competitors offer. This may give you leverage to improve your own service to new employees.

If you have a relocation policy, make sure that the new employee has a copy. If you do not, think about developing a relocation package. It would be typical for an employer of highly qualified professionals to offer a package amounting to between 10 and 20% of the employee’s annual salary.

This amount should cover temporary accommodation, travel to the new location, as well as the packing, removal, transport and possibly storage of their belongings by a reputable company. It should also cover solicitors’, estate agents’ and other professionals’ fees. While you are likely to want to see receipts for these costs, consider providing some of the money in advance to make the process smoother.

Provide advice on where to live

It’s a simple matter to provide candidates with information about the different areas where they might want to live, and their pros and cons. You could offer advice about house prices, schools, restaurants and pubs, cinemas and theatres, sports facilities, parks, childcare, transport, religious communities, medical services, support for older people, markets, community groups and hobby clubs.

Encourage the new employee to talk to a colleague about their housing plans. There may be aspects of an area that were not apparent when they visited, but that may affect their decision. Remember as well that women may feel vulnerable in a new town. Are there areas that are safer at night than others? Which are the reliable taxi companies? Are there clubs, networks or events to help women make new connections? It can be valuable to create an ‘insider’s guide’ about your location from the experiences of your current women staff.

Allow time for settling in

During the initial weeks, perhaps even months, of a woman’s contract, she will also be dealing with the impact of the relocation. Women with partners and/or family will need time to help them to settle in too. Even a single woman without children will need time for appointments with her new GP, her estate agent, and her service providers at home, and some freedom to meet people and keep up with her hobbies. A good employer can consider the time spent in establishing a new pattern of life as a good investment in the future happiness, and therefore productivity, of the employee.

Be flexible, fair and transparent

Each employee’s relocation needs will be unique. They may not want to tell you about the reasons for all their decisions, so your advice will need to be freely given, and for the employee to follow or reject as they choose.

The advantage of a written policy is that it sets out the parameters that apply equally to every employee. This gives you a baseline for treating everyone fairly. However, in supporting staff it is fair to recognise difference, and to acknowledge that everyone has different needs. A written policy can also provide transparency, but it is important to remember that setting up home and developing a personal life is the employee’s private business. By broadening the scope of your advice and support, you can support a new employee whatever their lifestyle.

Shortlisting and interviewing women

Interview panelThe shortage of qualified STEM professionals is one symptom of the fact that well- trained women are not progressing in their careers at the same rate as their male colleagues. Indeed, evidence shows that female graduates are more likely to take lower quality jobs than men. That discrepancy persists throughout women’s careers, not least because traditional recruitment techniques can deter women and fail to reveal their talents.

To achieve a more diverse workforce in STEM, your appointment processes may need to change to accommodate the differing needs of women applicants. To support the recruitment and retention of women, you could:

  • Ensure that the selection committee is diverse
  • Scrutinise your shortlisting process
  • Use consistent language
  • Select according to explicit criteria
  • Think about the long term

Ensure that your selection committee is diverse

Diverse hiring panels reduce implicit bias and increase the chance that all candidates will be assessed fairly. Many major companies have now made hiring committees diverse by default and are seeing an increase in the diversity of hires. Bear in mind that if your panel includes no women or, worse, if it includes a woman who is not making a full and equal contribution, you are unlikely to hire any women. If the selection panel is to be chaired, appoint someone other than the most senior man, and do not make the women in your selection committee the only note takers.

Explicit demographic information is usually removed from job applications to avoid selecting for or against particular demographics. This can make it very difficult to monitor how diverse your candidate pool is at any stage of the appointment process. You can solve this problem by nominating a diversity lead to keep the committee alert to any problems throughout the process. If this is not possible, then a retrospective analysis can help with future recruitment.

Scrutinise your shortlisting process

Selection committee members should shortlist independently, using an agreed list of requirements and characteristics in a scoring matrix. Ensure that there are consistent processes, for example, for taking career breaks into account or for excluding candidates. Where shortlisting shows a high degree of consensus, check that this is not the result of habit, or deference to the most senior person on the shortlisting panel. Where the shortlisting shows wide variation, check for the committee’s understanding of the role, job description, and corporate values, and justify each decision with reference to the agreed list of requirements and characteristics.

Unconscious bias can have an impact on shortlisting in many ways. Some people may be more willing, for example, to appoint a woman to a junior role than to a senior role. And women often undersell their achievements, while men are better at asserting their talents. So it is important not to dismiss any candidate out of hand, but to examine the details for each candidate. An unexpected or atypical candidate should be given the same degree of attention as an expected or stereotypical candidate.

For candidates at a mid- or late-career stage, women are more likely than men to have had time out for family responsibilities, but career breaks do not diminish talent. Judge on the basis of what has been achieved, rather than on how quickly a career has developed, or on what may have been missed. Career breaks or periods of part-time working can affect areas such as publication records, maintaining networks, or the ability to take up placements, secondments, or opportunities in different geographical locations.

If your shortlist is not diverse, make it longer, and ask your diversity to lead shed light on what in the process so far might have resulted in bias. At what point did the women disappear? There may be time to ask your staff to suggest women, including internal candidates, who can be asked to apply. If you have good internal candidates that did not not apply, find out why. Consider a champion system where women are directly encouraged to apply for promotions or new roles.

Use consistent language

Ensure that you use the same language with all the candidates. Some people inadvertently slip into a different way of talking when they are addressing a woman. They may become more casual, which can give the impression that they are not taking the interview seriously. They may slip into language more suitable for children, such as ‘just pop along the corridor’ or ‘sit yourself down here’. Treat every candidate with respect.

Similarly, some people talk about women differently from men. A male candidate might be ‘the man with the PhD in maths’ or ‘the former soldier’, while a female candidate might be ‘the one in the red jacket’ or ‘the woman who smiled a lot’. Only remark on qualities relevant to the appointment process.

It is also common for women to be called by their given name when men are called by their family name. It can be a good discipline to refer only to candidates or applicants, which are gender-neutral terms, and use surnames for everyone. Always use titles such as Dr or Professor and use the same level of formality with women as you do with men.

Select according to explicit criteria

Structured interviews are one of the most valid methods of selection. Just as shortlisting should be undertaken by reference to set criteria, so should the final appointment. These criteria should be used to prepare the interview questions, and should be in the mind of everyone on the selection committee during the interview. There should also be a clear understanding from the panel what a ‘good’ answer would look like.

Treat the interview as an information gathering exercise rather than a decision making exercise:

  • Remove all discussion of ‘fit’
  • Consider multiple mini-interviews
  • Remind panellists to be fair and to keep good notes, and that they will be accountable for their decisions.
  • Insist panellists stick to the processes

You will be asking all candidates the same questions. Be sure to include some questions about aspects of the job that women tend to do well, such as communication, building relationships, teamwork, organisational mission and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Remember that women tend to think about their job as something to do, rather than something to be, so ask about how the applicant likes to work, not just what they hope to become in the post.

You can also include questions that refer to company life more broadly, such as how the candidate would support a team member with a mental health problem, how they would run an open day for schoolchildren, or what they would do to encourage car-sharing.

It is tempting to judge candidates on how well they handled the interview, even though this may have little to do with the skills they will need in the post. If you are appointing a sales manager or a press officer, it might be relevant that the candidate is outgoing, energetic, persuasive and smartly dressed. However, if you are looking for someone who can work quietly on their own and then produce a clearly written report, you are unlikely to see their relevant talents in a standard interview. Be sure to take full account of past career experience, and not just not the performance in the interview.


Feedback is important to help candidates understand their strengths and weaknesses. The Women in the Workplace 2016 report from Lean In and McKinsey found that women are just as likely to ask for feedback as their male colleagues, but are less likely to get it, though when they do it is vague and non-specific. You should consider giving actionable feedback as standard, especially for roles where there is a paucity of women.

It is the interviewer’s responsibility to compile constructive feedback:

  • Use a scoring grid
  • Feedback should be timely, detailed, complete and balanced
  • Keep good interview notes that you can refer back to
  • Back up your decision with relevant examples from their interview
  • Be constructive and descriptive but not judgemental

Think about the long term

Women are more likely than men to have been denied opportunities to develop their experience in previous jobs. They are also less likely to have been able to devote time to volunteer projects related to their field of expertise. If they are lacking some important experience, but are strong in other areas, provide training. This investment will not only pay off if, as a result, you secure a high-quality employee for the longer term, it can also be used to attract female candidates who are more likely to value training opportunities.

Women who have been on a career break may need time to re-adjust to work. Such candidates bring not only talent, but also a more varied set of life experiences to your business. Their experiences can be highly valuable, providing different points of view.

If you find that women are not applying for your vacancies, use the data to raise the issue within your organisation. Do you need to think about how you might do better in the future? If women are applying but are not well qualified, think about how you can reach potential employees to offer guidance, mentorship and potentially work experience. Could you be developing internships or supporting technical education in your region? Work with a local school or university to offer placements, project opportunities, talks and open days. You could inspire future employees, and you will learn about how the education system is preparing young people for your industry.