You’ve heard the universally acknowledged idea that men and women are fundamentally different, right?
Well, welcome to the conversation on men overapplying for jobs and women underapplying, an umbrellaed subsection of the hotly debated topic of gender inequality in the workplace. That’s if you’ve not been made privy to the conversation already.
The very managers negotiating strategies for gender inequality may be completely unaware of a confidence gap separating male and female employees and potential recruits, but with recent research on the topic, it’s fair to say it’s a factor that comes into play more frequently nowadays.
"Women feel a need to meet 100% of the criteria to submit an application, whereas men apply having met just 60% of the job specification."
So, pick up that cup of tea, and let’s talk about it here.
Conscious and unconscious bias are core issues in the gender equality domain, and LinkedIn evidence only supports these ideas. Interestingly, when searching for candidates, recruiters open men’s profiles more frequently. When a woman’s profile shows up in a search, recruiters are 13% less likely to click, and if they do view her profile, they are 3% less likely to send her an InMail than her male counterpart.
Whilst behavioural science may be an avenue for explaining this it also proves insightful to analyse the hiring funnel, from viewing and applying, to interviewing and hiring. The different conversion rates at each stage yield interesting insights. Not only do women typically view 20% fewer jobs than men, they are also less likely to apply. On average, women would view 25% more jobs prior to making an application than men. However, having made these applications, conversion to interview was 12% higher for women. These statistics suggest women take more time to analyse a role and the hiring company to understand whether it would be the right fit for them. It’s therefore crucial that employers move away from focusing on gender equality as an end goal and transition to a data drive sourcing strategy that helps them to understand these gender splits at all stages. Interestingly, we found no evidence that women were less likely to receive job offers in any of the examined fields. A self-fulfilling prophecy is at play – jobs exhibit lower proportions of women filling them, and as such women fail to identify with these positions and are put off applying.
Confidence is core to the debate – often women feel a need to meet 100% of the criteria to submit an application, whereas men apply having met just 60% of the job specification. This could be due to learned behaviour if gender bias has been a part of their professional working environments.
A more thoughtful approach from employers could involve greater consideration of the number of criteria they stipulate for a position – whilst several ‘must-haves’ can stay put, the ‘nice-to-haves’ could be left for exploration at interview rather than being portrayed as crucial tick-boxes.
“I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.”
A survey by Tara Sophia Mohr showed that “I didn’t think I could do the job well” was the least common barrier to applying for roles. Instead, by far the most popular response from 41% of women and 46% of men “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy”. Some companies place great weight on personal referrals, yet female applicants are 26% less likely to ask for a referral, even when they have a connection at the hiring company.
Understanding these tendencies can be complex. Women are often found to be competent and hardworking enough to outpace men in school – so why is it so difficult for them to keep up later on? Women may be more socialised to follow rules, leading them to perceive advertised requirements to be less flexible than the reality.
Speaking from our experience, at graduate and entry level, equality in the recruitment process would benefit from a greater focus on adaptability, rather than very specific skills required. Invest in upskilling candidates with great potential – and they’ll invest their career with you! Employers should be reviewing the tops sources of hire in their organisations and create sourcing strategies that are more inclusive of under-represented groups. An effective candidate pipeline should contain a blend of referrals, active applicants and sourced candidates.
By Natasha King, Holly Morton, and Chumani Ward
 Mohr, T (2014)
 Tockey, D and Ignatova, M (2019). Linkedin Talent Solutions Gender Insights Report