Academic recruitment

Best Practices for Attracting Female Applicants

5 min read · Advice & Insights / Academic recruitment · Published 3 years ago

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Many universities are taking a critical look at the ethnic and gender makeup of their faculties and staff. Women, in particular, are often underrepresented in scientific research groups and as tenured faculty. As a result, many institutions are rethinking their staffing and hiring processes in order to increase the number of women in their applicant pool. 

To achieve greater diversity at your university, you need to start with attracting a diverse applicant pool. Here’s now to attract more female applicants. 

female candidates socialize in a circle

Remove gender bias from your job advert 

While your university’s reputation and cultural history certainly play a role in attracting certain candidates, your job advert also influences the types of candidates who apply. In order to appeal more to women and people of marginalized gender, take the following four steps:

1. Use gender neutral language

There is quite a bit of research from the last decade or so about gender-charged adjectives and their role in deterring women from applying for certain positions. These adjectives (like decisive and determined) tend to discourage people of marginalized gender from applying. To keep your job descriptions gender neutral, be mindful of the adjectives you use and stick to factual words that describe the position and the skills necessary to do the job. There are several websites and apps that will run scans on the text of your advert and flag potential problems. Use them!

2. Limit requirements

In a Harvard Business Review article, Tara Sophia Mohr took a deeper dive into the often quoted statistic that women only apply to jobs when they meet 100% of the qualifications while men apply when they meet only 60%. She found that,“What held [women] back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process.” Most women believe that the requirements listed, were in fact required.

Instead of a lengthy bullet pointed list of requirements, take a critical look at the skills and qualities absolutely necessary versus those that are preferred, but not critical to performing the job. Chances are, it will also help you clarify exactly the type of person you need to fill the role. 

3. State family friendly benefits

By explicitly stating your institution’s family-friendly policies in your job advert, more women (and people with families) should be encouraged to apply. These policies can include parental leave, campus child care, family friendly events, and flexible hours. As the Center for Women’s Education at the University of Michigan writes, “research suggests that institutions that do not accommodate family caregiving suffer in the competitive academic workplace.”  Ensure your university is attracting more female candidates by mentioning these policies in the job advert. 

4. Express commitment to diversity

Like the inclusion of your university’s family-friendly policies, expressing your community’s commitment to diversity is an easy and quick way to make an important statement. This does not have to be lengthy but it will make all potential applicants feel included and encouraged to apply.  The more specific you can be, the better. For example, by explicitly stating how you will improve—like increasing female faculty by a certain percentage—will not just state your commitment but show it. 

female candidate using a phone in office.

Promote your vacancies on social media 

Once you’ve removed the gender bias from the text of your job advert itself, another key way to reach a more diverse group of applicants is by using social media. Social platforms with job boards like LinkedIn aren’t traditionally as popular with academics, but a strong and active presence on Facebook, Instagram, and especially Twitter, is incredibly important in recruiting researchers. Using these channels allows you to reach not only active but also passive job seekers

Since they’re not actively pursuing new positions, passive job seekers don’t check job boards. If you only post your vacancy there, you won’t reach this important candidate group. While it may feel futile to focus on passive job seekers, in a Talent Solutions report, LinkedIn found that approximately 70% of the global workforce are passive job seekers. And, according to Betterteam, “80% of employers say social recruiting helps them find passive candidates.”  Social media is an incredibly powerful way to reach out to the potential job seekers you’re missing by only using job boards.

Additionally, an active personal or lab social media presence is a great way to showcase your commitment to improving diversity in academia. You can post pictures of female researchers in labs, profiles of parents sharing how they create a work/life balance, and post news and updates about the work your female colleagues or students are doing. In this way, you can help position yourself as an attractive potential employer to female job seekers.   

Paid campaigns are important too

If you are looking to attract more female candidates, paid social media campaigns are invaluable. 

The biggest advantage of paid social media campaigns is that you can target a specific audience. For universities looking to recruit more female employees within a certain field of study, this is huge. Sponsored social media campaigns allow you to carefully select the audience you reach with your ads. Nearly all recruitment experts like Zippia agree, “social recruitment comes with incredible ability to laser-target certain groups of people for the available vacancies.”

Close up of female lab assistant in white uniform sitting in lab and using laptop for data entry. In background is her colleague working.

Invest in employer branding and content marketing for long term success

Although there are some strategies you can implement in the short term (like writing gender neutral job adverts and posting to social media), positioning your institution as an attractive employer for women requires you to think beyond the next vacancy. The most effective way to consistently attract more female candidates is to develop a long term strategy that incorporates employer branding and content marketing. 

While some of your employer brand is determined by others (like your employees, students, and the work you put out), some of your employer brand can be shaped by the information and marketing you create. If your long term goal is to attract more women, think about how you can better align your employer brand with that goal. Dr Graham Little, Partner & Head, Global Research Leadership at executive search firm Perrett Laver says, “Think about your website, your promotional materials and wider collateral–are you showing yourself as the organisation you are aspiring to be?”

Content marketing is a powerful tool for communicating your employer brand since it allows you to show, rather than tell, how you support gender diversity. Through targeted content marketing in the form of blogs, articles, or social media posts, you can explain why diversity and inclusion are important for your department and university. Content marketing is especially useful as it ultimately creates more brand awareness and name recognition for your university, which in turn helps to attract, engage, and retain talented researchers and academics. With regular, relevant content geared towards female academics, you will reach both active and passive job seekers. 

Although passive job seekers may not immediately apply for your vacancy, over time they will become more familiar with your institution and work and more likely to apply in the future. Adding more women to this candidate pipeline is more likely to lead to increases in female applicants in the future.

Further reading on diversifying your applicant pool


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