November 19 , 2018

Need Women Applicants? Why Micro-targeting Women Triggers More to Apply

Six women in a business room meeting

Understanding Why Providing “the Right Information” Causes Women to Apply

Let’s get right to the point. HR is way too often risk-averse, it is not transparent, and withholds valuable information that would cause many more women applicants to apply immediately. In addition, talent acquisition, unfortunately, frequently “lumps” all diversity targets together. Its “one-size-fits-all” approach to diversity advertising content causes them to miss out on the opportunity to attract more women. Rather than a broad approach, “micro-targeting” women (aka narrowcasting) with the information that is directly relevant to them is the way to go. I call these “application influence factors” because providing relevant information (e.g., the ratio of men to women on the team) will directly influence a woman’s decision to apply. 

Data Reveals That the Right Information Will Increase Woman Applicants

There are, fortunately, many information points, which if provided, would stimulate many more female applications. For example, an interesting study using LinkedIn found that “telling jobseekers how many other people had applied for a position increased the likelihood that they would also apply.” And in the case of female applicants, revealing applicant volume information “increased the number of female applicants by 6 percent (Source: Economist Dr. Laura Gee).

We also already know from leading-edge work by Textio that avoiding certain male inferring words like “ninja” and substituting female friendly phrases can increase female applicants by 23 percent.  It also resulted in 25 percent more candidates of all kinds that qualified for the interview round. These amazing results reinforce a basic principle of marketing, which is that you need to create your advertising content so that it covers the specific “decision influence factors” of your target audience.

The Search for Additional “Application Influence Factors” for Women

Logically, there must also be other actions and bits of information that would proactively excite potential female applicants enough to apply. The recruiting function should scientifically identify what other bits of information would influence additional women to apply. And, if only these four factors had the same 6 percent impact (as posting the total number of applicants did), combined they would create a breathtaking nearly 25 percent increase in the number of women applying, which would likely by itself result in most firms meeting their female diversity goal!

A Few High-Impact Information Areas That Would Trigger Women to Apply

If you’re not familiar with the factors that influence a woman’s decision to apply, this section contains four examples of the top 25 information areas that will likely trigger more women who see your job postings to apply. A complete list of all of these factors can be found in my follow-up companion article, which will be published on May 14, 2018, on ERE.net.

  1. Reveal the proportion of women in this job — women want to know if they are going to work in an environment that is rich in diversity and inclusion. Provide potential applicants with the percentage of women currently in this job or team.
  2. Make it clear that it isn’t necessary to meet every job requirement — Few realize that when men apply for a job, they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications. However, women only apply if they meet 100 percent of them (Source: An HP internal report). In a related study, nearly twice as many women indicated the top reason they didn’t apply was that “I was following the guidelines about who should apply” (15 percent compared to 8 percent for men). It makes sense to list the actual percentage of the job description requirements that were met by recent hires in this job.
  3. Let them know how women rate this work environment  A survey of woman employees is often the best way to convince potential women applicants that the working environment isn’t male-dominated. So, reveal what percentage of women employees rate this team’s working environment as “women-friendly.”
  4. Provide information on fear areas related to the amount of work — because women are often concerned about spending time with their family. Highlight your limits on travel, overtime, responding to email at home, and weekend work.

The Benefits Associated With Providing This Targeted Information

Here are the top six benefits that result from providing information on the specific factors that influence women to apply for a specific job.

  • Highlighting the positive — You get more applicants because the information targets the positive factors that influence their decision to apply. You are likely also to get better-quality applicants because the very best have multiple choices so that they can be picky.
  • Reduce their fears — Many women don’t apply because of uncertainty. Providing information covering their negative or fear factors will result in less hesitation or not applying at all.
  • Micro-targeting — Rather than providing broad information that may have less impact on women, the information has a greater impact because it is micro-targeted specifically to women prospects and the factors that influence their decision to apply.
  • It’s cheap and easy — because in most cases you’re just adding one or two data points to already existing job postings. It is a low-cost option that produces immediate results.
  • Continual improvement — If you gather data on the results that micro-targeting produces, you can quickly identify which information areas have the highest impact, and then drop the ones that don’t increase applications.
  • It can also help you sell them — Once you identify the factors that influence women to apply, you can also provide that information to employees so they can use it to increase their number of female referrals. In addition, you can use it to more effectively sell women candidates during the interview and the offer process. 
Three women meeting in a cafe
Identify the wow factors that influence women to apply and integrate the information into your employee referral program.

Don’t Confuse Application Influence Factors for a Job With Employer Branding

You shouldn’t confuse this “influence effort” with the broader employer branding approach, because it’s unique in that it targets a specific job that women are already interested in. And incidentally, in addition to attracting more applicants, because of their piqued interest, fewer female candidates will drop out midway through your hiring process.

Action Steps for Identifying the Highest-impact Information Areas for Women

The first recommended action needs to be getting everyone to agree that this “woman application effort” will be driven by data and not emotion. The second mandatory step is to agree to be bold and aggressive. A timid effort that withholds impactful information will have little impact. The third step is to use surveys or focus groups of potential or actual female applicants for identifying their “application influence factors.” Surveys can also identify the specific information or data points that have the most impact on their decision to apply. Also, these surveys can identify any “turnoff” factors that would immediately decrease applications.

The fourth step would be to conduct A/B tests where you place two job postings for the same position simultaneously. One posting has the added information targeted to women and the other omits that information. After collecting application rates from both ads, the one containing the woman-friendly information should get significantly more female applicants. The final step is to actively encourage all employees to post positive comments on their firm’s women-friendly work environment on employer common sites like Glassdoor.

Final Thoughts

Because I live in the Silicon Valley, I constantly hear about how even the best firms are struggling to attract female applicants. They fail primarily for two reasons. The first is that they are simply unwilling to poach women directly from other firms. The second reason is that they don’t use a scientific marketing approach to identify and then provide information covering the often, unique information areas that influence whether women will apply. Stop relying on intuition, and shift to a 100 percent data-driven micro-targeting recruitment advertising approach. You will see that the jump in your applications will be well worth the effort.

Need Women Applicants? A List of the Targeted Information That Triggers Applications

Writing in planning notebook

Learn About the 25+ Information Areas That Excite Women to Apply

I highlighted some success stories and the many reasons and benefits from modifying your recruiting messaging approach. Also, I provided the messaging approaches that cover the information areas that trigger potential woman applicants to apply for a specific job. In this follow-up companion piece, I provide a list of top 25 information areas that directly cover the “application influence factors” for women. Quickly scan through this list of factors to get some ideas about the information areas and the data points that would positively influence more women to apply to your firm.

A List of the Top 25 Influence Areas for Attracting Women Applicants

The areas that are most likely to influence female prospects’ decision to apply are listed below. They are broken into four categories with the most impactful information areas and data points listed first. You should start by providing only a handful with strong supporting information and then expand your efforts into other information areas at a later date. If the information covering an area doesn’t put this job or your firm in a positive light, you shouldn’t reveal it.

A) Reveal that the job has many of the positive/negative features that women applicants focus on

The information areas in this category cover positive features women would like to see in a new job. Or, the negative fears that women sometimes have that discourage them from applying.

  • Reveal that others are applying — (try this first) Dr. Laura Gee’s experiment demonstrated the impact of revealing the number of all applications for the job, “so far” (or alternatively for the last time when it was open), resulted in more females applying. Providing the percentage (or the number) of women who have applied might indicate that this is an attractive job for women. Revealing the success rate of women who apply and get this job (or all jobs) could also impress.
  • Reveal the proportion of women in this job — Women want to know if they are going to work in an environment that is rich in diversity and inclusion. So, provide potential applicants with the percentage (or the number) of women currently in this job, team, or the firm. This information may stimulate applications from those who want to work alongside other women or in a diverse team.
  • Reveal there are women in senior management positions — Reveal the percentage of high-level managers and executives who are women. Potential women applicants may be motivated to apply knowing that women have executive opportunities and a seat at the table in this firm.
  • Team profiles show the quality of teammates — for those who want to work alongside the very best teammates, provide a link to brief profiles that reveal the quality of the current members of the team. Highlight female team members and their contributions.
  • Let them see their impact — Many applicants and especially women want to have an impact on the company or the world. Reveal the actual impacts that the new hire would likely have.

And a few fear areas

  • Make it clear that it isn’t necessary to meet every job requirement — Don’t miss out on the opportunity to educate potential women applicants in this area. Men, on average, apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent (Source: An HP internal report). In a related study, nearly twice as many women indicated the top reason they didn’t apply was that “I was following the guidelines about who should apply” (15 percent compared to 8 percent for men). List the percentage of the job description requirements that were actually met by recent hires. This will encourage women applicants who normally wouldn’t apply unless they met almost all the job requirements.
  • Demonstrate pay equity — Providing the average starting pay differential between men and women in this job (or womens’ pay compared to men over all jobs) may comfort women who are concerned about pay equity. The average percentage of a new-hire’s pay that is based on their performance may also attract women who are top performers.
  • A profile of their manager may ease their concerns — Provide a hyperlink to a profile of the new-hire’s manager that also covers their management approach. If the manager is a woman, this profile is even more essential.
  • Let them know the speed of the hiring decision — Information related to the speed of hire may excite women (and other applicants) who find a slow hiring process to be tedious. By telling potential applicants how many days, historically, elapsed between posting and filling the job, you may excite those that apply because of quick decision making.
  • Reveal the likelihood that they will be assessed by male recruiters — Potential female applicants may be concerned if the recruiters are primarily males. Revealing the percentage of female recruiters may encourage more applications.

One woman receiving feedback from two women

B) Reveal that your culture is woman/diversity-friendly

If the team’s culture is women-friendly and diverse, provide information revealing what makes it so.

  • Let them know how women rate this work environment — the best way to convince potential women applicants that their future working environment isn’t male-dominated is through a survey of women working in the team. It should reveal that women are listened to, they aren’t objectified, and that harassment is not an issue. Showing the percentage of women who rate the team’s working environment as “women-friendly” may stimulate potential women applicants that fear joining a male-dominated environment. Women generally prefer a teamwork environment, so ask women employees to rate the degree of collaboration in the team.
  • Include women-friendly phrases in the job posting — and eliminating male-oriented phrases (using a process like Textio) will encourage more women to apply. Scour your careers and social media sites to ensure that they do contain woman-friendly and not male-dominated language.
  • Create a compelling welcoming video for women — The problem with words in a narrative and even a static picture is that they don’t allow you to actually “feel the excitement.” Providing video and more specifically, a link to a welcoming “please-apply” video made by the hiring manager will allow potential applicants to get a feel for the manager and the team. A Lighthouse Research survey of potential applicants found that a “hiring manager welcome video” resulted in “46 percent more likely to consider the job.” A “day-in-the-life” video highlighting a female employee may also help applicants “feel the excitement” that other women feel in the job.
  • Highlight unique women-oriented features that “will be talked about” — If your firm offers unique features that are likely to be talked about, that information should be provided. For example, Facebook has reserved parking for its pregnant employees, and it offers to pay for the freezing of a woman employee’s eggs. I have to admit that the first time that I visited Facebook’s new headquarters, I was immediately stunned with its culture that, obviously, celebrated women employees. Deloitte’s buddy program is also worthy of being talked about. It matches senior leaders with rising female talent for one to two years. Its objective is to build confidence, create visibility of talent internally, and provide access to stretch assignments.
  • Reveal any guaranteed representation in the interview slate — Some firms have a program that guarantees that at least one woman/diverse candidate will appear in every interview slate (e., The Rooney Rule). If you have any program that improves the chances of women getting at least an interview, make it visible. Guaranteeing that at least one woman will be interviewed might stimulate more female applicants.
  • Other actions that may help offset minor concerns — The accumulated minor concerns or fears held by women prospects may be partially offset by significant financial incentives. If in addition to pay equity, you give a significant sign-on bonus to women, that may give them the extra needed incentive to go ahead and apply. In addition, agreeing to hire two women colleagues simultaneously (aka hire them both) may add additional encouragement because both women will know that they will have a known peer buddy there to share their concerns. Offering a chance to visit or talk directly with women in the same job might also help alleviate some concerns of your prospects.

C) Career opportunity factors that may influence women applicants

People of both sexes are interested in career growth and opportunities. Provide information covering the growth opportunities for women

  • Reveal the likelihood of a promotion — Women who are risk-averse often worry that taking a job at a new firm will limit their promotional opportunities. Reveal the promotion rate for newly hired women (or of all new hires) in this job within the last two years. Revealing the maximum number of promotions that any woman received after starting in this job may also be helpful. Showing that women get promoted at least as fast as men throughout your firm is always compelling. If you have a fast-track program, consider revealing what percentage of employees participating in it are women.
  • Reveal opportunities to innovate — Revealing any significant innovations emanating from women in the team might excite female innovators. Revealing any areas where the new-hire’s team will likely be first will also excite women who want to be part of product and technical breakthroughs.
  • Offer side-by-side company comparisons — If you’re really bold, provide a hyperlink to “a sell sheet” that compares the woman-friendly features of your firm directly with the offerings of your competitor firms. Just like a product comparison chart in Consumer Reports, this format makes it easy to show that your firm has superior offerings for women employees.
  • Provide project approval rates — Some of the most desirable applicants are those who have multiple new ideas. Female applicants who have multiple new ideas will want to know what percentage of project ideas from women and all team members are approved, and how long those approvals normally
  • Reveal performance expectations — One of the areas of uncertainty that prevent women from applying is being unsure of what will be expected of them. So, provide a hyperlink to their performance goals for the first six months on this job. This will make performance expectations and goals much clearer to female applicants who don’t like uncertainty.

D) Lifestyle and flexibility factors

Women are often extremely interested in flexible work hours and work/life issues. Survey your own female employees or applicants to find out which flexible benefits are the most important. Include a hyperlink to these benefits in your recruitment advertising.

  • Reveal the average total work hours — Revealing the average weekly number of work or overtime hours in this job may influence individuals of both sexes. Many want to limit their work hours due to family obligations.
  • Reveal how much travel is required — Individuals of both sexes can find extensive travel to be a strain on their family. So, help alleviate their fears by revealing the average percentage of out-of-town travel days per month.
  • Provide information on freedom in their job — Excite women who want a high degree of freedom in their job. You can do that by revealing the areas where new hires in this job generally have a significant amount of freedom (g., choice of projects, and input into work schedules and work locations).
  • Show them that jobs can be customized — One of the best ways to convince women to apply is to show that for top candidates, you are willing to “tweak the job” to fit individual needs. Don’t guarantee it, but at least reveal that this manager is willing to negotiate factors like working at home options, not working when kids are out of school, whether the job must be full-time, and whether other work content aspects of the job are negotiable.
  • List women/family-friendly benefits — Most firms already list their family-friendly company benefits that are mostly targeted toward women. Often these factors include work/life balance programs, paid maternity/paternity leave, childcare support, working at home, flexible hours, paid adoption help. Unfortunately, little information is generally provided, and posting these features don’t allow the firm to differentiate itself. Provide a hyperlink to internal programs (e.g., mentors for women) and to internal groups (e.g., expectant mothers group) that are designed specifically to support women employees. Even revealing the percentage of your firm’s employees who have families may stimulate female applicants with children.

Final Thoughts

Because I live in the Silicon Valley, I hear about how even the top firms are struggling to attract female applicants. Rather than whining, I find that the key success factor is switching to a data-driven micro-targeted marketing approach. Because rather than targeting all diversity as if it was the same, it focuses specifically on the positive application influence factors and the negative factors that cause women to hesitate before they apply.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect much progress in this micro-targeting area because of HR’s lack of transparency and its fear of doing something radically different. Nevertheless, I hope that you found these two companion articles helpful in explaining why you need to target influence factors for women, and which specific factors are likely to have the most impact. And, of course, after you make the transition, the follow-up step would be to shift your micro-targeting approach to other high-value target groups.

If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, connect with me on LinkedIn.

As seen on ERE Media on 05/07/2018 and on ERE Media on 05/14/2018.

images from pexels.com

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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