They say inspiration comes in many forms. Apparently, that also applies to the legendary student-run UCL page UCLove. If you’re not familiar with UCLove, it’s an anonymous submission platform for UCL students to submit their thoughts and questions (alongside their library crushes).
I was on Facebook this morning when I came across this post (in summary, women’s only events are unfair and it would be fairer to employ a blind hiring policy):
To begin, I really appreciate people reaching out to hear the other side of their own opinion. I’m also no kind of gender/economic/market expert (sadly, my £9k a year at UCL only affords me an extensive reading list and the delights of Moodle).
However, as a student who’s benefited from numerous women-only recruitment schemes, I’d like to explain why they exist and why I’m an advocate for diversity hiring and development in industry.
So, let’s break this UCLove argument down into a few stages:
- Why Women?
Research shows that gender equity is great for business, improving companies’ innovation, group performance and financial performance. Do you know how much value advancing gender equality would add to global growth? (Spoiler: $12 trillion). Yet, women are still underrepresented in key areas of business and finance, especially at the higher levels.
At a university like UCL, where there is a lot of focus on getting women into industry, it can be hard to remember that this gender imbalance exists. We study hard and compete on a level playing field with our male counterparts. We sit the same tests, attend the same lectures…
However, the difference is still there.
Have a quick look at UCL’s 2017/18 departmental student numbers by gender. How does your course compare? Because, once you start looking at the facts, you can quickly see that several subjects have huge gender imbalance, especially more industry-facing degrees.
That’s because being a university-level female student interested in business isn’t the beginning of the story. The difference in subject study tends to start from a young age, where young women are frequently discouraged from certain fields such as STEM and finance by explicit and implicit biases. As the statistics reflect, this divide only continues further up the system. As women progress through higher education, they are underrepresented in numerous fields.
As many companies hire irrespective of degree background, women’s-only access events at university level offer a fresh opportunity to encourage female talent to join fields that they are underrepresented in.
2. Why Women’s Only Schemes?
So, there are not enough women in certain sectors. It would be highly beneficial if there was. What can we do to fix that?
Women’s only schemes are not a perfect solution; in fact, I’d argue that they are “completely unfair” because they shouldn’t even need to exist.
However, they become one of the most prominent ways of encouraging female candidates to enter fields in which they are commonly underrepresented. My personal attitude is that women’s only schemes should be seen as a catalyst or a “stop-gap” measure for encouraging women to enter certain industries, until societal attitudes towards women applying for and working in those spaces is balanced out.
But why do women’s only schemes specifically help young women as a target demographic? In a working world where women are less likely to apply for competitive jobs and more likely to experience impostor syndrome if they do, women’s only schemes offer an opportunity for access. By marketing certain schemes towards underrepresented groups, this gives those groups more confidence in their own ability for and suitability to the role.
Creating tailored events also gives rise to opportunity for additional, diversity-specific advice. Most of the women’s-only events that I’ve attended have included valuable advice on the realities of working in the industry as a woman, provided me with female mentors and most importantly, have reassured me that despite all odds, women can excel in fields that they are underrepresented in.
I would also encourage you to take this approach to other diversity schemes; whilst it’s amazing to see this support for young female professionals, this same logic applies to other access routes (eg low-income, BAME, LGBTQ+). It feels like a lot of diversity hiring is currently focused on gender, but I would love to see the growth and development of new diversity pathways. In every instance, this is about helping talented people excel in new areas and making futures accessible to all.
3. The Problem with Blind Hiring
The problem with blind hiring is that it does nothing to change the existing imbalances of the system. It assumes an existing, natural “fairness”: that all applicants have had the same opportunities and thus should be considered on the same playing field.
You may have seen this rather cliche fence equality cartoon. The principle is understandable: there is a difference in how able different groups are to achieve the same outcome. The problem with the logic of this cartoon is that it assumes we’re all up against the same obstacles that we need to overcome (i.e. the “fence”) but that some are less able to due to our personal limitations (i.e. our “height”). If you applied this “height” logic to women in work, for example, it would be assuming that women need more help because we are inherently less capable.
Rather than this metaphor, I really like this graphic below by Paul Kuttner. This is a more accurate depiction of the inequalities of the hiring system in that there exists an “opportunity gap” for candidates from certain backgrounds. It’s not that we’re “short”, it’s that the “fence” is taller for some groups than it is for others. Thus, additional support helps women to challenge the existing system and achieve the same level of access which should exist in the first place.
In conclusion, if the system doesn’t change, the industry won’t change.
If you hire from the normal quota of applications that you get, you’re doing nothing to support those who are facing an opportunity gap in the recruitment process. The only way to change this system is to get more diverse talent into senior roles – but we can’t wait forever for that to happen. Therefore, diversity schemes such as women’s only events are an effective measure in beginning to shift societal attitudes towards women in the workplace.
If you’d like to learn more, I’d really recommend reading Lean In by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg – it’s a great, well-articulated and interesting introduction to the inequalities women face in the workforce. Equally, please feel free drop any questions or comments below!
(Note to self: I can’t believe I just wrote an article off a UCLove post. This is surely some kind of new record of keen.)