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Thinking laterally about attracting female talent

by Louise Weine, National Director, NAWO

Why can’t we attract any female talent?

Attracting female talent is an area I am obviously particularly passionate about. Those of you who have heard me rattle on about ‘thinking laterally in recruitment’ would know my frustration with us continuing to do what we have always done when we go to market for talent and expecting a different, magical outcome (more women appearing on our shortlists). The bottom line is our membership is struggling to attract female talent to operational industries and roles. So I cannot tell you how delighted I was when an email popped into my inbox from Sara Prendergast, a kindred spirit, who had the same questions and has completed a fascinating piece of research in her own company  – the outcomes of which support the assertion I have made for a long time:

“Continuing to maintain the status quo of attracting, developing and promoting employees who ‘fit’ the prevailing model of employee and leader prevents the industry’s capacity to evolve and to be innovative”.

 Sara Prendergast (What does effective attraction of females to operational roles look like? 2017)

One of NAWO’s key objectives is to facilitate connections between member companies to learn about best practice and I am delighted to say we have a NAWO Knowledge Share event scheduled on this very topic, featuring Sara’s research and being hosted by Asaleo Care in September. We have up to 12 seats available for change agents and diversity specialists form our membership to attend and learn about Sara’s findings, and share out of the box approaches to attracting female talent. (See details here)

In my line of work, I have the privilege of knowing a lot of talented women and there a few generalised observations I would make that really are important to consider if you are wanting to capture their interest. As every marketer would say – you need to really know your target market…


  • are likely to be loyally committed and engaged to their current employer with only a fleeting inclination to think about their next career move. So you need to reach them in different ways. No point advertising on seek if they are not looking. Consider Facebook, Linked In, connecting with ‘networked’ people in the industry to spread the work, other social media formats. Even better, get to know more women who are already in operations personally, be in the network and get to know the network.
  • are genuinely interested in who they work with, how they will fit in with them and with the culture of the company. So the first impressions they gain of your business and the people within it are critical. The imagery you project in your advertising can also have a negative effect here (are your pictures all of men, is your advertisement stade and old fashioned – reflecting the operations world of the past?)
  • will be put off applying for roles that define pre-requisite criteria that they perceive or know they do not meet. So always err on the side of taking a pre-requsite off the advert rather than keeping it in. If you are rolling out the PD for the role from 2010 and just fiddling with the detail you are probably presenting the wrong image.
  • have a high need to be passionate/excited about the work they do. So excite them and talk to them about the role in a way that is meaningful to them. There are some terrific tools available now to help you analyse advertisements for gendered communication. For instance https://www.totaljobs.com/insidejob/gender-bias-decoder/
  • Need flexibility and have a strong desire to work efficiently and effectively when they are at work – they have a low threshold for time wasters! So you need your selection process to be respectful of this at all times and you need to have a mature ‘we are accountable for outcomes’ attitude as an organisation to flexible work – full stop.


As a starting point –  here are my basic hot 5 – the questions to ask yourself when you are setting out to attract female talent to a role:

  1. Think about where you are advertising – how are you spreading the word about the role?
  2. Critically examine the ad and job profile – how does the job ad speak to your organisation’s purpose and culture? What does your Marketing Manager think of the ad, what is their opinion of the company’s employment brand?
  3. How are you describing the job? What is in the description that will be most likely to spark interest from women? Your organisation’s position on flexible work will be absolutely key here – see next point.
  4. How flexible are you, really? For those of you who might be a little behind where we are heading with flexible work, this is not just the traditional ‘part time’ model of flexibility. A job can be full time and enable suitable flexibility.
  5. What is in your ad that will cause women to dismiss your organisation and your job as an option for them. How essential are the pre-requisite criteria for the job?… really, how essential are they?

Looking forward to seeing those of you who share passion for this space at our Knowledge Share event in September and we will make sure we share the learnings beyond the participating group.


Additional resource: https://www.nawo.org.au/news-updates/nawo-podcasts/


Sending out a warm welcome to new Silver member @KelloggCompany from the NAWO network! Such a great company and brand committed supporting women develop their careers and move the dial on gender balance in operations. #inspirationatwork #operations #genderbalance

About 9 hours ago from NAWO's Twitter via Hootsuite Inc.