Recruitment for men, women not so different

But some employers still making false assumptions based on stereotypes
By Danielle Harder
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/06/2012

While there are some differences between what men and women look for in an employer and a job, they are not all that stark.

That means employers making broad generalizations are taking risks, according to several recruitment experts.

While 63 per cent of recruiters feel there are some distinctions between the sexes, they are subtle and based on many factors including a candidate’s life and career stage, according to an informal survey of 110 recruiters across the country in April by Hays Specialist Recruitment Canada.

“It really comes down to the individual,” says Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays’ Canadian operations. “Women, at a certain stage in their lives, may be concerned with things such as how far they are from school or daycare, and flexibility, while men seem to — at times — place more value on the prestige of the job, for example.”

But O’Grady is cautious to avoid making generalizations. A middle-aged woman with three school-aged children, for example, may be offended by the notion she cares more about flexibility than compensation, he says.

“The trap is that you end up offering the same terms and conditions to everybody.”

About 51 per cent of recruiters say there are differences with how men and women approach finding a job, with women tending to take a more systemic and focused approach to job hunting and men taking a more general approach without paying as much attention to details, found Hays.

“Women pay real attention to the soft skills,” says O’Grady. “Men just say, ‘Yes, I can do that and that and that.’”

And women are — at times — less aggressive about compensation, he says, a finding underscored in the Canada’s Top Campus Employers survey, which looked at the attitudes of 27,000 university and college students. Female students say they expect to earn roughly $8,000 less annually at their first job than their male counterparts, and more than $23,000 less five years after graduation.

These results have been misinterpreted by some to mean women value themselves less, according to Graham Donald, president of Brainstorm Consulting, one of the Toronto-based firms behind the survey. But he doesn’t feel that’s the reason.

“Women are often closer to reality,” he says. “Male students have an exaggerated sense of what they’ll be earning.”

Additionally, more women than men enter lower-paying professions such as teaching and health care than higher-paying fields such as IT and engineering, says Donald.

As for career goals, a slightly higher number of women (90 per cent) than men (84 per cent) place a priority on work-life balance, though both genders rank this as their number-one career goal.

In second place, 88 per cent of women and 79 per cent of men focus on achieving secure employment, while both genders (79 per cent female, 80 per cent male) want an intellectually challenging job.

More apparent differences appear farther down the list, found the survey. About 78 per cent of women versus 67 per cent of men hope to feel they are serving a cause or the greater good, while 73 per cent of males (compared with 60 per cent of females) hope to become leaders at their organizations. Men also have a greater need to be recognized as experts in their field (75 per cent) compared with women (59 per cent).

Overall, the distinctions between the genders — particularly with the top-rated goals — are not all that different, says Donald.

“What this shows is the things that are important to this generation are even more important to women. They may be pulling the male voice in this generation,” he says, noting 60 per cent of post-secondary graduates are women.

But some recruitment experts say the distinctions between males and females are so slight, they’re not worth dwelling on.

The employer-employee relationship has evolved to the point where all candidates, regardless of gender, feel they have more choices, says Dawn Longshaw, managing director of professional recruitment at the Vancouver firm Vertical Bridges.

“As we evolve, we’re looking for different things,” she says. “Because of that philosophy changing, employees expect different things — but it’s not on gender lines.”

Marci Schnapp agrees. There are 1,000 things that motivate an employee but, increasingly, they’re not gender-specific, says the president of TeamQuest Systems, a Toronto-based recruiting firm.

“There were a lot of (gender) differences when I got into recruiting 15 years ago,” she says. “But now, there are not the traditional roles men and women used to play. There are lots of single men, single women, families with two men, families with two women, etcetera.”

Societal changes are also altering what employees look for in joining and staying at a firm.

“Now, both sexes are making kids and parents a priority,” says Schnapp. “And men are just as vocal as women. There’s no stigma for men now to say work-life balance is a priority.”

However, some employers still make assumptions based on stereotypes.

“There are huge consequences,” she says. “(Employers) don’t always get the right person and they leave themselves open to liability.”

When recruiting, employers need to make sure there are no barriers to entry and candidates are making decisions based on the role offered, not gender-focused policies, says Longshaw.

“Employers should say, ‘This job requires you to work this many days. It may involve travel, overtime, etcetera. Is there anything that precludes you from doing that?’” she says. “They don’t need to know the gender of the candidate.”

However, while the immediate needs of male and female employees may not be as stark as they once were, it’s still important to have balanced representation at the leadership level.

“When a woman looks at the leadership team and sees no representation of her, she’ll wonder, where is her mentor? Does she see herself there one day?” says Schnapp. “That’s what’s going to be the most attractive to the best and brightest.”

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