Recruitment & Hiring, Startup Advice

Want a gender-diverse workforce? Scrap tokenistic quotas and hiring bias

Tessa Court /

hiring women

IntelligenceBank founder and chief Tessa Court. Source: Supplied.

The number of women in managerial positions has increased by 4.4% over the last five years, putting the progression of women into management roles at a faster rate than men. However, despite this growth, women are still under-represented in top-tier management roles.

“Women’s empowerment is not just a fundamentally moral cause, it is an economic no-brainer”, said Christine LaGarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

This rings true.

Numerous recent reports have found women outshine their male counterparts when it comes to management performance. One study, which surveyed 2.5 million manager-lead teams in 195 countries, discovered women-led team members were more likely to feel encouraged, supported and engaged with their work. This positive feedback directly correlated to performance, productivity and business outcomes as a whole.

As the chief executive officer of a marketing operations firm, I have observed first-hand the challenges faced by women trying to navigate the corporate world and move up the ladder. With my company now in scale-up mode, rapid growth is at the forefront of my mind, and I know when seeking the right people to help us scale, gender diversity is imperative. Not only from a moral responsibility standpoint, but because tapping into the abundant talent pool of women is great for business.   

Achieving quotas by removing hiring bias

When I first started IntelligenceBank in 2009, it consisted of me and four male developers. Today, we have grown to 45 staff members, of which 47% of the company, and 40% of senior management, are women. I distinctly remember when we hired our first woman employee, we all joked that the women’s bathroom now had to be shared.

But we didn’t achieve this due to having quotas in place. Instead, we focused on hiring processes that prioritised merit, coachability and attitude. When you focus on these things, and consciously remove unconscious bias, diversity is a by-product.

In my opinion, quotas or targets only work when there is substance behind the hire, and if gender diversity just happens to meet a quota, it fails for the token woman on the executive team or board, as employees see right through it and change doesn’t really happen.

I firmly believe if you hire on merit rather than familiarity ⁠— by which I mean avoid hiring a mirror image of yourself ⁠— diversity happens naturally.

The c-suite need to be aware of the various predispositions in hiring and make a concerted decision not to perpetuate this pattern. It can take more patience and listening during the interview process, but we need to focus on not only skills and what people claim they can do, but also their behaviours.

Cultivating confidence among women in the workplace

The reality is women are 15% less likely to be promoted than men across all organisational levels. In turn, this means it could take more than a century to see gender parity in the c-suite. In my experience, men are likely to raise their hands for new jobs or promotions more often and sooner, whereas women are more likely to wait until they gain more experience.

To counteract this, women need to be more bullish, and believe in themselves and their capabilities. Women need to exude confidence and put themselves forward for opportunities. But it’s also up to leadership teams to support and encourage women to do so, as it can be one of the most impactful ways to achieving a more gender-diverse workforce. A powerful example of this kind of inclusive culture is Cathy Engelbert, who credits Deloitte’s focus on the “advancement and retention of women” for her subsequent appointment to chief executive officer.

I’m proud to say there are several women in our business we have specifically encouraged to consider taking on leadership roles. We recognised their talent, even if the women themselves had not. At the end of the day, nurturing the best talent results in the best outcomes.

The battle may be uphill, but it’s not unattainable

Every woman in business has faced unconscious bias in one form or another — even if they don’t realise it. Inherent discrimination is scientifically proven to be engrained in our culture with women and men alike both being contributors to the situation.

It is therefore up to all leaders, both men and women, to consciously shift the culture.  While we have seen gradual progress, it’s been far too slow and for many women, there’s a fair way to go up that ladder.

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Tessa Court

Tessa is the chief executive officer and founder of IntelligenceBank.

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