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“Women won’t apply to a job unless they meet 100% of the requirements”: Myth or lesson to be learnt?

Nora Blackie
22 Apr 2021

You’ve probably heard the following statistic: Men typically apply for a job when they meet 60% of the requirements, but most women won’t apply unless they meet 100%.

It’s been quoted by a number of business articles and just about every career coach you’ve come across on LinkedIn, but what does a statistic like this really mean for employers?

It’s usually touted as evidence that women need to have more confidence when job-hunting, but a Harvard Business Review report by Tara Sophia Mohr believes this isn’t exactly the case. She surveyed over 1,000 men and women and asked them:

“If you decided not to apply for a job because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, why didn’t you apply?”


Results from the report:

According to those surveyed, a lack of confidence (“I didn’t think I could do the job well.”) was one of the least popular responses, accounting for only 10% of women and 12% of men. The actual most common response, from 41% of women and 46% of men, was: “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.”

Looking at Mohr’s report, it seems like not meeting the requirements of the job is actually a pretty big deterrent for both genders… so does that mean that the original statistic is bogus?

Not exactly.

While there’s no solid data to show that women are less confident job-hunters than men, there are other factors that can explain why their application behaviour might differ from their male counterparts.

According to the report, another 15% of women said that the top reason they didn’t apply was because “I was following the guidelines about who should apply.”

However, only 8% of men gave this same answer as their top response, showing the largest gender divide in the entire study.

Now, this might not be that surprising, considering that girls are often socialised from a young age to be more rule-abiding than boys, but it does carry a pretty hefty implication that men might tend to view the job’s written requirements or on-paper qualifications as more mutable factors than women – mere “suggestions”, if you will – than actual barriers that are going to prevent them from getting the job.


So, what can employers do to address this issue and encourage more women to apply for their roles?

Mohr’s report suggests that more clarity surrounding the hiring process will benefit the application process for both genders. This includes more information on the company’s work culture and female-focused benefits such as maternity leave, and any affirmative action policies that are in place.

Other reports suggest that even the wording of some job advertisements can impact the way female candidates in particular respond to the job listing. For example, one psychological study found that “when job advertisements were constructed to include more masculine than feminine wording, participants perceived more men within these occupations, and, importantly, women found these jobs less appealing“.

So, if you want more female candidates to apply to your roles, being just a little more conscious of the words and phrases used in the job description, or actively incorporating more feminine/gender neutral terms, could go a long way to encourage a more even gender distribution in applications to your position.

In one of GradTouch’s own independent reports, we found that 45% of the 185 female job hunters we surveyed would be put off from applying to a job if the company had no female employees in management positions. Transparency on your workforce structure is crucial in helping potential female employees to envision themselves in the role.

As a final take away, Mohr believes that employers should allow candidates a bit more leeway when it comes to on-paper qualifications, and instead place a stronger emphasis on advocacy, relationship-building, and framing their existing skills in a way that demonstrates their future potential.

22-04-2021Nora Blackie

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