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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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News: Pay gap influenced by low applications, says research


Women are underrepresented in high-paying jobs because they don’t apply for them, according to new research.

Workplace discrimination at the point of hiring is a factor but many women choose not to apply for higher-paying positions because of ‘preconceived notions’ of job roles.

This research came from Professor Roxana Barbulescu of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, who said: “Women are taking themselves out of the running for certain jobs. When they evaluate different possible career tracks they already have the assumption that their applications may be unsuccessful.

“This is combined with a preference for jobs with better work-life balances and a lack of identity with more stereotypically masculine jobs, such as you may find in the finance industry. In a sense they pre-empt what they think the employers’ decision will be, and opt-out first.”

The research, taken from a sample of MBA students, was conducted in collaboration with Professor Matthew Bidwell of the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. According to the authors, the research offers the first direct evidence that similarly-qualified men and women apply for different kinds of jobs based on perceptions of gender roles.

Professor Barbulescu added: “Rather than concentrating on employer decisions, we wanted to understand the process through the applicants’ side. We did not find evidence to suggest women are less likely to receive job offers in any of the sectors we looked at once they applied. The research suggests that employers’ hiring decisions do not tell the whole story here. We need to understand the issues that make women believe they will not be successful in these fields.”

For HR, this is an essential issue as businesses try to increase diversity in the workplace. The application collateral is key here – how can businesses encourage women to apply for high-paying jobs at the point of application? It’s a tough challenge and symptomatic of a wider problem. As unemployment hits confidence and job seekers become disheartened, there’s more and more chance of them clicking the close button before they’ve even applied.

We need to start thinking of recruitment as a user journey – if companies want to attract top talent and encourage diversity in the workplace they must address barriers to successful application and make sure that all collateral encourages, rather than dissuades, people to apply.

There’s not been a huge amount of research in optimising recruitment material but one interesting area is the elaboration likelihood model (ELM), which is used in marketing to map how adverts affect viewers’ perceptions.

In basic terms, people respond to adverts based on either central cues or peripheral cues – the former refers to perceptions of the product being advertised through logical analysis about the strengths outlined. The latter refers to cues unrelated to the actual product strengths e.g. the colours used in the advert or previous knowledge of the company’s sustainability credentials.

HR may wish to use this model in the recruitment process to ensure that all aspects of the recruitment messaging are doing their job is painting a positive view of the company and encouraging applications. The first step is analysing what is currently working and what is turning applicants off.

This model clearly identifies why HR must draw strengths from the business as a whole – if the application material is good but the organisation is known for its poor environmental impact, people considering an application may be dissuaded through further research.

Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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