Shortlisting Women – How to get it right

shortlistInge Woudstra works with organisations on female talent management, and specialises in gender difference at work. Inge runs Gender Smart training programmes for leaders, managers and women and has written this guest post for us on how to get it right when shortlisting women. 

When I speak to recruiters about gender balance they tell me that indeed many companies now explicitly request shortlists with 30% or 50% of women. Interestingly though, in reality only in very few cases these women are then actually chosen for the role.

This could be because the women are less qualified than the men on the list. However, recruiters have assured me that is not the case.

So what is going on, and how can you improve the success rate of the women on your lists? It must be super frustrating to source fabulous candidates that never have a real chance to get the role.

Why women aren’t the first choice candidate

So women make it on the list, they get the interview, but they don’t get offered the role. This is not male misogyny, or some sort of conspiracy against women. What’s behind it is simply that men and women are different and often approach work tasks in a different way. Some of the issues at play in the interview of your candidate are:

  • The approach a woman uses is often more invisible than the one a man would use, even though it can be just as effective. This women approach tasks is not always recognised as valuable or effective.
  • When interviewing we all have an image of the perfect candidate and what they would be like. This image is usually based on behaviour that tends to come easier to men. For instance there is an expectation that someone who is keen to get the role shows unbridled ambition. Women may have that same ambition but tend to show it differently.
  • Men often find women harder to work with as women often have a different style of working, which includes more consultative behaviour and asking more questions
  • In an interview men may find it harder to bond with a woman, or it may feel like she wouldn’t fit the team as she ‘isn’t like us’.


It’s easy to see then why women aren’t chosen. However, your client may be keen to have more diversity in their team, and perhaps it’s up to you to nudge them towards that. Here is what you can do to create a higher success rate for the women on your shortlists.

Preparing the client

  1. Ask for commitment to your candidates


Talk about your experience with presenting male/female shortlists and ask for their commitment to seriously consider each candidate.

  1. Ask the client to add new images to that of the perfect candidate


Explain how we always have an image of the perfect candidate, and suggest they may need to add some images. What would the perfect candidate look like if she was female? What would she do and say that would tell you she was suitable? How would it change dynamics in the current leadership team?

  1. Highlight the strengths of a particular way of working the candidate brings.


In your own interview identify those strengths of your candidate that could be invisible. For instance, women tend to have a more consultative style of leadership, where they ask others for their opinion before taking a decision or handing out tasks. Men tend to have a more commanding style.

A commanding style fits better with what is traditionally expected of leaders, and seems to give a person gravitas. A consulting style may give the impression someone is insecure and doesn’t have any answers. However, it actually is an incredibly valid way of working that creates buy-in, and brings in all available expertise in a team; it really unlocks the power of the team.

  1. Explain how team diversity initially creates tension


Different ways of working can create frustration and difference comes at a cost. For instance, women’s brains are more connected than men’s brains. As a result the male brain tends to focus on one thing at the time, and work towards one result. The female brain tends to see the bigger picture, the impact on others, and future implications. Therefore women like to understand why a decision is taken, and how it fits into that bigger picture. They usually ask more questions to complete their understanding.

Initially this can seem to hold up the process and create discord. Long-term however it can lead to better decisions, that are better founded and easier to implement.

ingeOnce you have created more openness towards difference, and have shown in which ways difference can be valuable, your client will be able to make a better founded decision on the right candidate and may well be grateful forever.

If you would like to know more about gender differences and how women bring value then watch this video on Key Gender Differences  or check out Inge’s new book ‘Be Gender Smart the Key to Career Success for Women’.




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