WomenWomen have become the new workforce.  There are now slightly more women workers than men, given the recession and the shrinking of the manufacturing and construction industries. They have less unemployment: So far this year the unemployment rate for men is about 8.8 percent, yet for women only 7.9 percent.

Additionally, women account for 51 percent of all workers in high-paying management, professional, and related occupations. There are now more women in management positions than men for the first time in American history and it isn’t stopping anytime soon. Women are projected to account for 51.2 percent of the increase in total labor force growth by 2018. And, these are not exclusively American trends – they are also trends in Europe and many Asian countries.

More women than men are graduating from universities, as well. Women make up 66% of graduates from American universities (and it’s a similar situation in the U.K., and parts of Europe). Men make up only 40% of the graduates. No one is entirely sure why this is happening, but we do know that boys are diagnosed more often with learning disabilities and are more likely to be expelled or incarcerated. Or it may be that men are disengaged and uncomfortable with traditional teaching methods.  They often have a more entrepreneurial mindset than women, probably because our Western culture encourages that behavior more in men. Also barriers to starting as company are lower than anytime in the past because of the Internet. There are a huge number of software startups and young men offering programming services on sites such as elance.

So what does all of this mean for your organization and recruiting?

Obviously there will be a growing number of well-educated women entering the workforce, and a reduction in the number of men. A wise strategy would be one that began to actively seek them out, engage them in learning more about your organization, and provide them with enticements that are geared to their needs.

Most of our recruiting efforts are traditional and that generally means weighted in favor of men. We assume that most employees are willing to work a “normal” 8-hour day and a “normal” 40-hour work week.  We assume they want bonuses and blocks of vacation time. And we assume they are willing to play the political games that are frequently needed to get ahead. These include “being one of the boys:” the beers after work with the boss, talking sports, cars and participating in sports events after work.

All of these may not be good assumptions if you want to stay competitive and get the best and most educated people available.

Here are a few things to consider:

 It’s just good business strategy to hire women.

With women becoming the majority of the workforce, it is just common sense to find better ways to attract and engage them. More and more start-ups are now led by women and more are moving into the ranks of senior leadership.

A number of organizations including HP and IBM have designed specific strategies to attract women.  One organization, Cigna, has invested 2 million dollars to recruit and develop executive-level women. Pepperdine University found that the Fortune 500 companies with the best record of promoting women outperformed their competitors by anywhere from 41 to 116 percent.

And, a recent study by Catalyst shows that companies with the highest representation of women in their senior leadership had better financial performance as a group than those with the lowest number of women.  Yet, women only account for 14% of the boards of Fortune 500 in the U.S. France and other European countries have now mandated that boards will be 40% female.

 2.     Are you finding the women you already have?

Many recruiters and hiring managers are not actively seeking out the women already working in their organizations. Internal hiring and development of women are cornerstones of improving your brand image. Each recruiter should focus on making sure that a diverse slate of candidates that includes current female employees whenever possible is presented to hiring managers.

 By making it a policy to help women move up and across the organization you can enhance your brand image and consequently your ability to attract more women.

 3.     You need to make sure your brand is friendly to women.

Very few organizations take the time to examine their brand messaging to see how it appeals or doesn’t appeal to men and women. Women often feel undervalued, unappreciated and underserved by recruiters and organizations. There is a subtle expectation that they should react to things and have the same approaches as men do to situations and events.  

It is very important to think about the overt and covert messages that come through when someone thinks about your brand. Messages that may appeal more to women than men are those offering flexible work time or that talk about a friendly and collaborative workplace. Socially responsible organizations are also important to many women. Imaging needs to show women in a variety of roles and testimonials and interviews with women showcase what you are doing. Women need to see and hear that their work will be rewarded and appreciated and that the expectations are not less for them than they are for men.

 4.     You should relook at all your HR policies and practices

Numerous surveys show that women are looking for very different benefits than men. Some of the specific things they are looking for include job sharing, part-time telecommuting, flexible business hours, and paid and unpaid work interruptions for child care and elder care.

Women are also looking for non-hierarchical organizations with a reputation for collaborative decision-making. If your organization, like so many, has a lot of men at the top this may be a problem. But often lower down there are women managers and women led teams that offer that collaborative environment. Every recruiter should understand how women contribute to their organization and what roles may be most attractive.

Ignoring women, thinking they are the same as men, assuming we all want to same things are very dangerous practices.  Beginning to tailor your strategies and tactics to the dominant workforce makes good sense to me.


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