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What is stopping us from breaking the glass ceiling?

Sitting in the waiting room of a multi-national company somewhere in the world there is a highly capable and talented female applicant nervously thinking of all the reasons why she won't get the job.

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Sitting in the waiting room of a multi-national company somewhere in the world there is a highly capable and talented female applicant nervously thinking of all the reasons why she won't get the job.

On the eve of International Women's Day I would like to share a personal observation I have picked up over time. Before I start, I should say "all generalisations are wrong; some are useful" (a blend of Mark Twain and George Box) and I do hope you find this observation useful.

“All generalisations are wrong. Some are useful.”

There is absolutely no doubt that the glass ceiling still exists today despite more recent efforts to address this shameful fact and improve equality and diversity in the workplace. There are many factors that contribute to this and today I would like to address just one of these.

As John Gray has very well articulated "Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus". This is very evident when it comes to the recruitment process. It is clear to me that men and women approach the whole thing with a completely different (even opposite) mindset.

When a typical man looks at the selection criteria for a given job, he views it as a wish list. If he can meet more than half of the criteria listed he will apply for the job convincing himself (sometimes with over-confidence and arrogance) that he has the skills to do the job and that he can adapt to cover the criteria he doesn't meet.

From observations with close friends and family I have come to learn that a typical woman will do the exact opposite. They will study the selection criteria and if there is one or more items on the list that she does not perfectly match she may put it aside and not even apply.

This immediately leads to an imbalance in the yield of applicants for the given role. Most Talent Acquisition teams are given guidance to strive for diversity in their recruiting actions and we often hear statements from them like "it is so hard to find good applicants these days" or "it is a very difficult market at the moment".

When we get to the interview stage a similar phenomena occurs. A typical male candidate adopts "salesman mode" and goes about convincing the interviewers that he is a match and the perfect person for the job. Whereas, far too often, female candidates with equal or greater credibility for the role will be modest and almost apologetic about their own personal perceived shortcomings (whether they are real or not).

Both of the above situations equally apply whether we are talking about applying for a new job in a new company or putting themselves forward for a promotion in their current workplace.

So, on this day, I would like to share some personal advice to everyone involved.

To our female friends, mothers, sisters and daughters - be more bold and do not dismiss an opportunity for a new role or promotion because you think you don't meet every single criteria. In the interview, do not apologise; and don't be so modest. Be clear and confident and convince the interviewers that you are the person they have been looking for.

To headhunters; talent acquisition teams; and hiring managers - please be conscious and aware of this. Consider applying some normalisation of what you are seeing and hearing from the applicants. Selection must be merit-based of course, but at least test the notion that the male candidate may be over-confident and over-selling himself and the female candidate may be being understated and modest in her responses to your questions.

For your consideration.


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