Q&A: Why women don't apply for jobs with Apurva Pawar

Every week, we schedule our weekly 1:1 with our readers. Want to be featured in an upcoming edition? Drop an email to abhash.kumar@springworks.in

This week we’re in conversation with Apurva Pawar, an HR leader with 8 years of experience. We talk about why women today don’t apply for jobs.

The interview is edited for length and clarity. All views are personal and not linked to any organisation.

Q - From a psychological perspective, what are the underlying factors that contribute to the "confidence gap" between men and women in job applications? How do societal conditioning, gender roles, and cultural expectations play a role in shaping this disparity?

The existing confidence gap between men and women is evident in various aspects such as job applications, salary negotiations, and terms and conditions discussions. This division can be attributed to societal conditioning, cultural expectations, and workplace culture. Societal norms often uphold male-dominated roles and industries, reinforcing stereotypes that hinder women's participation.

To address this, promoting the inclusion of women in such sectors is crucial. Additionally, the lack of female mentors in leadership positions poses a challenge. To bridge the confidence gap for women, addressing role model scarcity and unconscious bias is pivotal.

  • Perfectionism: Women may feel a higher pressure to meet extremely high standards in various aspects of life, including their careers. This perfectionism can lead them to believe they must meet all qualifications before considering applying.

  • Societal Expectations and Stereotypes: Societal expectations and stereotypes can influence women's confidence in their professional capabilities. Stereotypes suggesting that certain roles are better suited for men or that women are less capable in certain areas can impact their willingness to apply.

  • Lack of Role Models: The absence of female representation in certain industries or leadership positions can make it harder for women to envision themselves in similar roles, leading to self-doubt about their qualifications.

  • Unconscious Bias in Hiring: Research has shown that unconscious bias in hiring can affect how job qualifications are interpreted. Women may perceive that they need to meet all criteria to overcome potential bias.

Solving the issue of women not applying for jobs unless they feel 100% qualified requires a combination of efforts from various stakeholders, including employers, individuals, and society as a whole. Here are some strategies to address this issue:

  • Promote Growth Mindset: Encourage women to adopt a growth mindset, emphasizing that skills can be developed over time with effort and learning. Emphasize the value of taking risks and embracing challenges as opportunities for growth.

  • Redefine Job Requirements: Employers can reconsider job requirements and qualifications, focusing on the core skills necessary for success in the role rather than creating an exhaustive list of criteria. This can make job opportunities more accessible to a broader range of candidates.

  • Diverse Interview Panels: A diverse panel can help evaluate candidates based on their potential and abilities, not just the checkboxes on their resume.

  • Celebrate Success Stories: Share success stories of women who have taken on new challenges and succeeded, despite not initially meeting all the qualifications.

Q - How can we challenge the traditional norms and guidelines about who should apply for a job and create a more inclusive hiring process? What steps can organizations take to encourage diversity and empower women to apply for positions based on potential and skills, rather than solely on past experiences?

Crafting focused and gender-neutral job descriptions, embracing a growth mindset, and valuing skills over traditional qualifications can promote inclusivity. Skill-based assessments tailored to each role, involving diverse hiring panels, and ensuring leadership alignment with diversity initiatives are essential. Transparent hiring and promotion processes should be in place, with mentorship and networking opportunities offered to foster career growth based on potential and aspirations rather than rigid job descriptions. Celebrating success stories can inspire women to pursue leadership roles, shaping an equitable and bias-free workplace culture.

  • Revise Job Descriptions: Reevaluate job descriptions to focus on the essential skills and qualifications necessary for success in the role. Avoid using language that may unintentionally deter certain candidates and ensure the language is gender-neutral and inclusive.

  • Implement Blind Hiring: Adopt blind hiring practices, where personal information such as name, gender, and age is concealed during the initial stages of the recruitment process. This reduces the impact of unconscious bias and allows candidates to be evaluated solely based on their skills and qualifications.

  • Encourage Skill-Based Assessments: Use skill-based assessments and competency tests as part of the hiring process. This helps in evaluating candidates objectively and emphasizes skills and potential over prior experience.

  • Diverse Interview Panels: Ensure interview panels consist of diverse members to minimize potential biases in the evaluation process. This fosters a more inclusive environment and allows for a broader perspective when assessing candidates.

  • Support Networking and Mentorship: Establish networking events and mentorship programs that connect candidates with professionals who can offer guidance and support. This can be particularly valuable for women seeking career advice and insights.

  • Promote Transparency: Provide clear and transparent information about the hiring process, including what skills and qualifications are essential and which are preferred. This helps candidates understand the expectations and feel more confident in applying.

Q - Research suggests that women tend to be more rule-following, while men are more likely to take risks and pursue opportunities with less certainty. How can we strike a balance between following guidelines and taking calculated risks, especially in the context of job applications and career advancement?

  • Identify Transferable Skills: Assess your existing skills and experiences to identify transferable skills that align with the job requirements or career progression. Highlight how your abilities can add value to the role, even if you don't meet all the listed qualifications.

  • Seek Feedback and Advice: Seek feedback and advice from mentors, peers, or professionals in the field. They can provide insights on your qualifications and offer guidance on whether taking a risk is appropriate in the given context.

  • Conduct Research: Research the organization, industry, or position you're applying for. Understand the company's culture and values, as well as the industry's trends and demands. This information will help you make informed decisions.

  • Prepare for Interviews: In interviews, be ready to articulate your skills and experiences confidently. Use the opportunity to demonstrate how your strengths align with the job requirements and how you can contribute to the organization.

  • Be Open to Learning: Embrace a growth mindset and be open to learning new skills or gaining additional experience. Express your willingness to take on challenges and learn from experiences.

Q - Companies and employers play a significant role in shaping workplace culture and diversity. How can organizations create an environment that fosters equity and inclusion, dismantles biases, and encourages women to apply for roles based on their potential and aspirations?

Having female leaders to look up to can provide valuable guidance and inspiration. Currently, many companies are led by men, emphasizing the need to create opportunities for women to assume leadership roles. By challenging stereotypes, encouraging women's presence in traditionally male-dominated fields, and fostering female leadership, this disparity can be mitigated.

  • Leadership Commitment: The organization's leadership must demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They should communicate this commitment through policies, actions, and resource allocation.

  • Diverse Hiring Panels: Ensure that hiring panels are diverse and inclusive. This helps mitigate biases and ensures that hiring decisions are based on merit and potential rather than unconscious prejudices.

  • Unbiased Job Descriptions: Craft job descriptions that are gender-neutral and emphasize skills and potential rather than using biased language. Avoid gender-specific terms or qualifications that may deter women from applying.

  • Transparency in the Hiring Process: Be transparent about the hiring process and the criteria used to evaluate candidates. This helps applicants understand how their skills and potential will be assessed.

  • Growth Opportunities: Encourage internal mobility and provide clear pathways for career growth within the organization. This supports women in pursuing new opportunities and advancing their careers.

  • Supportive Mentorship Programs: Establish formal mentorship programs that connect women with mentors who can offer guidance and support. Mentors can help women navigate challenges and pursue career aspirations.

Q - What advice would you give to women who find themselves hesitating to apply for a job due to a perceived lack of qualifications? How can they overcome the barriers and become more assertive in their career pursuits?

Empowering women to initiate conversations, establish connections, and maintain professional relationships within female networking groups fosters mutual learning and support. These spaces create a supportive environment for sharing experiences and knowledge. Networking is a critical aspect of career growth, offering opportunities that might not be apparent initially. Embedding networking skills in educational curricula, like MBA programs, and early job experiences can be beneficial. Networking is a two-way street, requiring both initiative and active engagement to derive its full benefits. It can shatter barriers and open doors to unexpected opportunities.

  • Recognize Your Strengths: Take time to identify and acknowledge your skills, experiences, and accomplishments. Remember that job qualifications are not always fixed, and potential and passion can be just as valuable.

  • Embrace a Growth Mindset: Adopt a growth mindset and believe in your ability to learn and develop new skills. Focus on the potential for growth rather than dwelling on perceived limitations.

  • Seek Support and Encouragement: Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, and mentors who can uplift and encourage you in your career pursuits.

  • Understand the Job Requirements: Thoroughly review the job description and understand the core skills and qualifications required for the role. Highlight transferable skills and experiences that align with the position.

  • Apply for "Stretch" Opportunities: Be willing to apply for roles that may seem like a stretch. Many employers are open to candidates who show potential and enthusiasm.

  • Take Calculated Risks: Be willing to take calculated risks in your career. Trust in your abilities and take on challenges that will help you grow professionally.

  • Visualize Success: Imagine yourself in the role you desire and visualize your success. This positive mindset can boost your confidence and motivation.

  • Support Other Women: Encourage and support other women in their career pursuits. Being part of a network of like-minded individuals can help build confidence and create a sense of camaraderie.

Do you work in HR? Email abhash.kumar@springworks.in and Let’s Talk!