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.

Interpreting letters of reference

Woman writing letterLetters of recommendation (or ‘references’) for job candidates can differ depending on whether the candidate is a man or a woman. For candidates of equal merit, letters of recommendation written for women are likely to be, for example, shorter, to emphasise supportive attributes rather than leadership qualities, and to contain few superlatives. These differences may reflect an unconscious bias among writers of such letters, who are usually senior men. By bearing in mind the possibility that men and women candidates could be described differently, members of selection panels may be able to moderate these differences and so minimise the effect of the bias.

To improve employment prospects for women, you could:

  • Recognise that references are difficult to write
  • Be alert to stereotypes
  • Recognise the scope of the reference
  • Interpret ‘faint praise’
  • Allow for the potential for leadership
  • Understand candidates’ own unconscious bias

Recognise that references are difficult to write

When a job applicant is seeking a letter of recommendation, they look for colleagues of high status to write them. While it remains the case that most senior colleagues in technical professions are men, it will also be the case that most letters of recommendation will be written by an older man. Sometimes, these letters reflect traditional values that place less value on women’s contributions.

It is also far easier to write a reference for someone similar to oneself, so a senior colleague more used to a male-dominated environment may find that writing a letter of recommendation for a junior woman presents some unfamiliar challenges.

Be alert to stereotypes

Writers of references often take up space in the letter setting out their own credentials as a referee, and, being inevitably more senior, their careers can diminish the applicant’s achievements in comparison. Letters for female applicants tend to be shorter than those for men, and include less specific information about the candidate. A short reference can be taken to mean that the writer was unenthusiastic about the candidate, but it could simply be that they did not know much about them, which makes their letter less reliable. Reference letters for the candidate who gets the job are usually the longest.

Some of the differences between references for men and women reinforce stereotypes. While a woman may be described as ‘this lady’ or even ‘this young lady’, a man will be described as ‘this colleague’ or ‘this engineer’. Men are sometimes credited with a sense of humour; women rarely are. Comments about appearance appear primarily in references for women; similarly, information about personal circumstances rarely appears in references for men (and is appropriate for neither). Compare reference letters across a group of applicants to identify differences of style and content before you use them to make judgements about the candidates.

Women are also described in terms of personal qualities such as ‘polite’, ‘cooperative’, and ‘thoughtful’, rather than their professional attributes. Men’s achievements are more likely to be described specifically and in technical terms, whereas women’s achievements are set out generally and in everyday language. So when reading a letter of recommendation, a selection panel should be alert to what may have been left out of descriptions of women.
If you are concerned about what is not being said, you could contact the referee to enquire about omissions.

Interpreting ‘faint praise’

Women are often recognised for their hard work, meticulousness, dedication and other such traits that show determined application and effort. This implies that what they achieve it is due to labour, rather than ability or talent. Women are also complimented on their pastoral work and on their ability to follow instructions.

References for male candidates often repeat positive words and use superlatives: an excellent candidate will be excellent in many regards, as well as superb and first-rate. References for women candidates are less likely to repeat positive words, although they may use them once.

A reference for a woman that is moderately positive may indicate a candidate who is just as good as a man whose reference is extremely positive. Women risk being damned by faint praise: their successes may be qualified. A woman may ‘hide her shyness well’; or achieve ‘despite personal issues’; or have succeeded ‘with the support of her manager’. It seems that the traditional feminine virtue of modesty is still being attributed even to successful professional women.

According to the University of Arizona’s Commission on the Status of Women, references about women use adjectives such as caring, compassionate, hard-working, conscientious, dependable, diligent, dedicated, tactful, interpersonal, warm and helpful. References about men use adjectives such as successful, excellent, accomplished, outstanding, skilled, knowledgeable, insightful, resourceful, confident, ambitious, independent and intellectual.

Allow for the potential for leadership

Status is often inferred from ownership. In the rhetoric of references, men have possession of their relevant assets: ‘his research’, or ‘his business connections’. Women are more likely to look involved rather than proprietorial: ‘the research from that group is … ‘, or ‘she interacts well with our business connections’. Women tend to be given possession of more personal qualities such as ‘her dedication’ and ‘her patience’. One tactic to make biases in the writing stand out is to gender swap reference letters. Does a phrase or sentence ‘sound wrong’ when it’s referring to a man rather than a woman? If so, that’s bias at work.

Men are described as agents: they make things happen. Women are described as concerned with the welfare of the group, supporting others and keeping things going. These are usually considered secondary roles in most organisations. In a business, making things happen is usually a role for management or leadership; supporting others is a more junior role. If a women is described more in terms of her supportive capacities than her male competitors for a job, then she is likely to look less well suited to a more senior or managerial post.

Understanding candidates’ own unconscious bias

Although most letters of recommendation are written by men, the letters written by women often show similar biases. Not only that, but women applicants themselves often make unduly modest claims about their own achievements in their covering letter or personal statement. It is therefore worth comparing the letters of recommendation and personal statements to the candidates’ CVs. As a factual list, the CV may allow for deeper insight into the more descriptive claims. For example, a woman who has ‘presented some papers at conferences’ may have given 14 papers and a keynote speech; ‘a few decent publications’ may have been in the highest quality journals; and good financial management skills may refer to an R&D budget in the millions. Identify modest claims and compare them to the facts provided in the CV. Is the candidate being unduly self-effacing?

While studies about the differences in letters of recommendation for men and women candidates come to some clear conclusions, less well understood is the extent to which these differences affect who is appointed. If the candidate is interviewed, their direct personal impact may render the written accounts less powerful. It is therefore important to interpret all the evidence you have about each candidate as a whole, and to understand how differing accounts can arise.

Fractional and flexible working policies

Woman at laptopFlexible and fractional (part-time) working are two key tools for employers who want to recruit and retain women, and support women wanting to return to the workforce after a career break. People are attracted to fractional and flexible working arrangements for many reasons, not least of which is balancing work with caring responsibilities, which still rest predominantly on women’s shoulders.

Companies that offer and support a variety of working patterns can benefit from a pool of highly qualified but under-utilised women. Fractional and flexible working can also promote a positive working culture and increase productivity, and support staff who want to enhance their qualifications. Considered implementation can also help to reduce the gender pay gap.

  • Understand employees’ rights and needs
  • Encourage positive attitudes to flexible and fractional working
  • Keep flexible and fractional colleagues involved
  • Establish a positive culture of flexible and fractional working

A ‘fractional’ job is a part-time role where the employee works for a specified fraction of a full-time equivalent (FTE) role, for example a 0.5FTE role would be for half of a standard 35-40 hour working week.

Flexible roles allow employees to choose when they work, often including hours outside the standard work day. They may also include the option to work from home. A flexible approach can accommodate not only fluctuating demands at work, but also events such as a sick dependent, a school concert, or having to get your car serviced.

Both fractional and full-time roles can be worked flexibly.

Understand employees’ rights and needs

In the UK, anyone who has been employed for six months may request flexible working. Because fractional and flexible working is very attractive to women, especially those for whom a full-time might be challenging, it is good practice to offer it as standard, either with a personal plan or using common options such as:

  • Term-time only
  • Annualised hours, eg working the equivalent of 10 months per year
  • Compressed hours, eg such as working a full week over four days

If an employee asks to go part-time, it may be that they actually need the flexibility rather than reduced hours (and salary). A request for fractional or flexible work is a great opportunity to think creatively about the possibilities for changing broader working patterns, and to ask staff what hours they currently work, and what hours would they like to work. Use case studies of fractional and flexible working to help staff understand their rights. Using both women and men as role models can help to normalise these ways of working.

About three-quarters of requests for flexible working are approved, which suggests that most applicants think responsibly about what they can ask for. If a request is refused, it should be on the basis of reasoned arguments and evidence that it would not support the business need.

When a company commits to improving diversity and inclusion, offering fractional and flexible working is a good way to widen the pool of applicants to your job ads.

Attitudes to flexible and fractional working

Fractional employees are more likely to be women, so supporting their career development can make an important contribution to reducing the gender pay gap. Promotion processes and bonus structures should reflect the contribution that fractional employees make to a business, and should not negatively affect their chances of being promoted or receiving a bonus or pay increase. Indeed, it is against the law to judge an employee simply on the basis that their appointment is fractional or flexible. Focus on the quality of their contribution when thinking about promotion or benefits.

Unfortunately, although fractional appointments are common, they can attract negative attitudes such as ‘presenteeism’, where employees are judged on how long they are physically present at work. Such attitudes not only discriminate against fractional and flexible employees, they also perpetuate a culture of long working hours, which pressures people to work longer hours than necessary and to work when sick. Do not assume that employees who work flexibly or fractionally are not ambitious. Make sure that all staff are treated equitably, and are given the same career development opportunities.

Employers can counter presenteeism by recognising the contributions that fractional employees make to the business. Fractional staff should not be described as ‘part-time’ on staff lists or business cards — their working pattern is not relevant to the quality of their work. Indeed, working part-time or flexibly may even enhance an employee’s contributions — those who have a positive work-life balance are often the most positive about their job, and are more productive as a consequence.

Keep flexible and fractional colleagues involved

A company that supports flexible working will need to ensure that all colleagues are able to participate fully in the workplace. For example, project meetings at 8.30am or 4.00pm may exclude anyone who has to do the school run. Senior management meetings at these times may deter parents from seeking promotion. It therefore makes sense to ensure that there is a set time each week when all members of the team are in the office to attend team meetings.

Another good way to keep colleagues in the loop is to use alternatives to email, such as real-time discussion tools like Slack, video conferencing services, and project wikis. Provide access to and training on remote working technologies to all staff to improve inclusion and encourage collaboration. However, it is important to remember that flexible workers work flexibly for a reason, and their other commitments must be respected.

Social events are important to develop team relationships, but when they are scheduled after work or at weekends they may exclude parents and carers — lunchtimes can provide a more inclusive alternative.

Establishing a culture of flexible working

Managers play a key role within any organisation, in terms of how fractional and flexible working is enacted on the ground. They help build employee relationships, and support career progression as their staff grow and develop in their roles.

Managers should not only be aware of the benefits of fractional and flexible working, they should be discussing options with staff during reviews and appraisals, as well as considering how these employment structures might benefit specific projects or teams. Ensure that the organisation’s commitment to flexible working is highlighted to managers during key processes, such as recruitment and appraisals.

Recruitment and HR teams especially should be aware of staff’s rights with respect to fractional and flexible working. They should review recruitment and internal communications materials to ensure that they properly reflect both employee rights and the company’s broader policies.

Many employees may not have thought about fractional or flexible working, so showcasing positive stories, particularly by inviting flexible and fractional workers to share and discuss their experience, will help them understand their options.

When staff transition to flexible or fractional working, they may benefit from formal or informal mentoring from an experienced colleague, especially if they are new to the idea.