March 24 , 2019

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

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

  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. 

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 more information? Then also read next week’s companion article entitled “Need Women Applicants? A List of the Targeted Information That Triggers Applications” which covers each of the 25 application influence factors. It will be published on on 5/14/18.


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.

image from bigstock

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.

Check Also

Serving is skilled labor – by Gavin Jenkins

Jokes aside, service industry professionals should finesse their resumes when switching careers, according to John Sullivan, a human resources expert who Fast Company called “The Michael Jordan of hiring.”