Digital images of workers show fewer women in leadership positions
- A new Pew Research Center study found that image searches showing workers on the job feature fewer women than men. Men appear 60% of the time across the board, despite making up only 54% of all people employed in the jobs studied. The center studied 10,000 U.S.-based images for 105 common occupations, such as librarian, plumber and hair stylist.
- Key study results showed that women were underrepresented in some images relative to their actual participation in those jobs, and this effect was concentrated in some job categories and jobs, such as chief executive and general manager. Images of women appeared further down on pages in searches, as well.
- Notably, search results also show more gender diversity than actually exists, on average. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 38% of jobs in the study are predominantly held by one gender (with 80% or more male or female workers), but only 21% of job image searches showed predominance of one gender over another.
Images can be powerful in envisioning and therefore accepting people in various occupations. As Pew notes in the study, the way jobs are visualized has a societal effect on how people perceive who can do those jobs. A recruiter who has grown up in a society in which women are not often depicted in the job the company is hiring for may have developed unconscious biases about who belongs in said job, which can show up unintentionally in the recruiting process. A number of technologies and training programs promise to assist in solving this issue, but ultimately, talent professionals have to be aware of how their biases could be affecting their recruitment goals.
Employers should be aware of images on their websites and what message they send to prospective applicants, too. In a November 2018 article for HR Dive, Gretchen Van Vlymen, HR VP at StratEx, wrote that recruiters must acknowledge unintentional, or unconscious, bias in hiring. "It is in our nature to gravitate toward those who are like us. Acknowledge that there may be unconscious bias and work actively to think outside the 'box' looking for candidates who fit the overarching company values, but also bring something new to the table via their background, their experience, their language, etc."
It might also be natural, but essentially biased, to gravitate toward hiring people who are typically thought of as holding a particular job, such as hiring women for largely administrative positions, while hiring mostly men for engineering or executive positions. Rewiring the thinking in hiring for these positions — and remembering inclusion — can help a company reach its talent goals.