Why aren’t women applying to your job advertisement?

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Applying for jobs can be a nerve-wracking experience, as competition is high and a step toward to your career goals hangs in the balance.  My assumption was that all candidates shared this same trepidation, but research from 2014 has revealed that men are far less cautious than women in this regard and will tend to apply for a role if they meet around 60% of the job requirements, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100% of them.[i]  Why does this disparity exist, and why aren’t more women applying for roles within their reach?

One argument is that the language used within job adverts themselves dissuades certain genders from applying.  For example, women are more likely to be deterred by adverts requesting individuals able to ‘manage’ rather than ‘develop’ teams, whereas men tend to prefer jobs requesting ‘competitive’ rather than ‘supportive’ candidates.  Words such as these, imbued with gender connotations, are surprisingly prevalent.  The technology company, Textio carried out research in 2016 to flag gendered language and found that the average job advert contains twice as many ‘masculine’ phrases as ‘feminine’ ones.[ii]  A similar study by recruitment services company, Total Jobs discovered that, within the 77,000 job adverts included in their study, 478,175 words carried gender bias; an average of six male-coded or female-coded words per advert.[iii]  The use of gendered language can pose a significant problem, as it can signal to potential candidates that they don’t – and won’t – belong.

Simple alterations can make a huge difference.  Atlassian, an Australian software company, hired 80% more women into technical roles within two years by changing the wording of its job adverts, demonstrating the extensive effect of language.[iv]  Paying close attention to the language used will be critical for companies wanting to grow the size of their talent pool, as ZipRecruiter proved when it discovered that gender neutral adverts receive up to 42% more applications than more biased ones.[v]


And yet, there are some points of contention that arise when asking organisations to change their wording.  Firstly, in some cases, specific words are necessary.   For example, positions in investment banking demand a level of competition and fearlessness, and failing to include these elements in a job description may mean that a new employee is unprepared for the realities of the role.  Secondly, changing the language in adverts does not attempt to address the underlying social issues concerning why certain characteristics are perceived as either masculine or feminine in the first place.  Removing gendered words from job descriptions does not necessarily remove the biases associated with them.  However, despite these concerns, crafting gender neutral job adverts is an expression of a firm’s commitment to inclusion; and this must be seen as a step in the right direction.

Some state that the 60%/100% disparity is not evidence of a language problem but of a “confidence gap” between men and women.[vi]  They argue that women are less confident in their own abilities, whereas men are more self-assured and tend to take a more “cavalier” approach to applications.[vii]  This may be true of certain individuals but it seems both unfair and unlikely to assume that all men and women fit this stereotype.  In fact, researchers at the Harvard Business Review have dubbed the confidence gap a “myth”, suggesting that women are not deterred from job applications because they lack confidence but because they do not want to waste time and energy applying to a role they are not adequately equipped to perform.[viii]  Which instead raises the question: why are men applying for jobs that they aren’t qualified for?  And, do the men that start in these roles find themselves out of their depth?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Perhaps what this disparity actually shows is that more men have simply seen these job adverts for what they really are: wish lists.

A lack of female applicants signals the need for a wider change in how job adverts are understood.

Lengthy bullet-pointed lists of job requirements can trick applicants into thinking that each point is vital when, in reality, recruiters write lists of ideal attributes rather than strict, unyielding lists of absolute necessities.  Limiting the number of words in your job adverts will make it far easier for candidates to realise that they meet the requirements, while also reducing the risk of including gendered language.  As more people feel both able and inspired to apply, recruiters may find that individuals with transferrable skills can bring something unexpected to the organisation and take the role in a new and exciting direction.  Furthermore, recent research on job descriptions has shown that providing people with a rigid list of tasks does not encourage them to push boundaries and innovate.  Looser listings encourage opportunities for creativity and demonstrate that your organisation has space for people to be ambitious and to craft their own work and career path.[ix]  Let all of your applicants feel 100% ready to take on a role they can help to shape.

To talk more about inclusion at work, drop me an email at callandra@hotspotsmovement.com.


[i]  https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified

[ii] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/job-adverts-language-deter-women-applications-men-gender-employment-a8395106.html

[iii] https://blog.totaljobs.com/gender-bias

[iv] https://www.refinery29.uk/2018/06/201593/job-adverts-gender-bias

[v] https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/removing-gendered-keywords-gets-you-more-applicants/

[vi] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/

[vii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackzenger/2018/04/08/the-confidence-gap-in-men-and-women-why-it-matters-and-how-to-overcome-it/#57ebe9cb3bfa

[viii] https://hbr.org/2018/03/is-the-confidence-gap-between-men-and-women-a-myth

[ix] https://qz.com/336805/the-rise-of-the-name-your-own-job-posting/

10 facts about our Head of Digital Engagement, Harriet Molyneaux

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Continuing the celebrations for our upcoming 10th anniversary this October, here are 10 interesting facts about our Head of Digital Engagement, Harriet Molyneaux.

1. When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I joined HSM at the beginning of 2016, which means I’ve been here for coming up to four years. The time has flown by.

2. What is your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I sit in our consulting space, from bringing on new clients to designing and delivering projects. Specifically, I head up the Jam team, where we run online crowdsourced conversations over 72 hours to uncover roadblocks, surface good practices and co-create solutions around specific challenges. Previous clients include Linklaters, for their global strategy refresh, and PwC looking at their Millennial retention strategy.

3. What has been the most interesting project to work on?

I honestly couldn’t choose between them! We’re very lucky at Hot Spots that we work with fascinating clients and no two projects are the same.

4. Which clients do you work with?

My client base is broad, from the energy sector to the Big Four Accountancy firms, with client employee populations ranging from just 200 people to over 200,000. They are based all around the world and I find the interaction with different working styles and cultures fascinating.

5. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

Our recent research on Shifting Cultures was particularly relevant for me. Many of the concepts in this theme, including nudge theory, influencers and micro-behaviours are integral to the work we do.

6. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

The variety – it keeps things interesting. I also find my colleagues inspirational to work with, from Lynda Gratton to our newest team member, everyone makes a significant contribution to my enjoyment of work. Finally, effecting change in massive organisations which have been struggling to change course is hugely fulfilling.

7. What has been your favourite place to travel to with Hot Spots Movement?

Probably Amsterdam, a very beautiful city that I’ve always wanted to visit. Unfortunately, it was a flying visit, so I mainly saw the inside of a client’s meeting room. Next time I will make more time for sightseeing…

8. What is the best book that you have read in the last year?

I’m glad you asked this. I’ve made a conscious effort to make time to read this past year, so I’m going to give you two: Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

9. What does no one know about you?

When I was younger, I wanted to be an opera singer. My weekends as a teenager were spent touring with various opera companies around the UK and my plan was to go to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After a dramatic about-turn shortly before UCAS applications closed, I chose to go to Edinburgh to study Philosophy and Italian. While I’ve definitely retired from singing in front of audiences, Covent Garden Opera House is right around the corner from Somerset House so I manage to get across quite often to watch my favourite operas.

10. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

Recently, I’ve been very interested in the concept of ‘good work’ which Lynda defines occurring when work is a place of work and learning, and in our most recent report on ‘Narratives on the Future of Work’ as having meaning, dignity, autonomy and belonginess. My parents come from a generation who often view work as a duty, which isn’t necessarily enjoyable at all times, or maybe even at all. I love the idea that work is adding meaning, broadening your horizons and generally adding value to your life, and plan to continue pursuing this in my own future of work.

To find out more or to speak to Harriet about her ongoing work, contact harriet@hotspotsmovement.com

Keep an eye out for next week’s 10 facts on our Project Manager of Digital Engagement, John Furness!

10 facts about our COO, Tina Schneidermann

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Continuing the celebrations for our 10th anniversary this October, here are 10 interesting facts about our Chief Operating Officer, Tina Schneidermann.

1. When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I first began working with Lynda Gratton in 2003, some years before Hot Spots Movement was founded. When HSM was then started, more than 10 years ago, I was involved almost from the outset.

2. What is your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I’m the COO of Hot Spots Movement.

3. What has been the most interesting project to work on?

That question presupposes I have a great memory (which is debatable), but more importantly, it’s very hard to choose! I like building, so I particularly enjoy projects of some longevity. The Future of Work Research Consortium is a great example: we created it 10 years ago, thinking it would run for one or two years. Instead, we’ve been able to learn and improve over 10 years, trying every year to make it easier for our clients to put the co-created insights to use within their organisation. Another development project is building our team – which is ongoing as the individuals that make up our team are all great learners with tremendous potential.

4. Which clients do you work with?

As COO I work with all our clients, more or less directly which is a real luxury, as I learn so much every day. For me, understanding what our clients need, and how we can best meet those needs in a way that builds on our strengths and is a key part of my role.

5. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

The Masterclass from 2015 on The Future of HR was a great MC – because we discussed topics that are at the heart of HR executives’ future.

6. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

Working with globally recognised thought leader, Lynda Gratton and watching the team grow.

7. What has been your favourite place to travel to with Hot Spots Movement?

I’m torn between Tokyo and Sydney – two wonderful cities we visit at least once a year. So I have to mention two!

8. What is the best book that you have read in the last year?

A Sport of Nature by Nadine Gordimer. Gordimer is one of my favourite authors, and as South Africa was the first country I lived in outside of my native Denmark, reading a book by Gordimer is one of my favourite pastimes (sadly too rare).

9. What does no one know about you?

I’m fortunate in that I still have my dad and many childhood and youth friends, so between my dad, my old friends and not least my children, I’m not sure I can think of anything. How very boring!

10. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

It’ll be defined by work – in the sense that I don’t expect to ever retire! I really like working as the learning component in all of the jobs I’ve ever held has been significant, and working at Hot Spots Movement is certainly no exception. The notion of portfolio will play a bigger role as the years go by, and I expect it to be more project-based later on in my career.


To find out more or to speak to Tina about her ongoing work, contact tina@hotspotsmovement.com

Keep an eye out for next week’s 10 facts on our Head of Digital Engagement, Harriet Molyneaux!

“All roads lead back to lifelong learning”

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Hot Spots Movement’s founder, Professor Lynda Gratton, discusses lifelong learning and how you can ensure your organisation is helping it’s people reskill in preparation for the future of work.

Solving the productivity puzzle: The new ethical dilemma

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MHIn his 1994 book, ‘The Age of Diminishing Expectations’ Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, perspicaciously argued that ‘productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything’.[i] When one considers that productivity is perhaps the main driver in an economy’s ability to grow and therefore also the greatest predictor of the standard of living for a given person or group of people, it is difficult to disagree with Krugman’s contention.

In essence, productivity is defined as output per hour worked. In recent years, however, within the developed world productivity levels have been lagging. To elaborate, the recent ‘Skills and Employment Survey’ highlighted that in the UK, labour productivity has historically grown by around 2% per year since the 1970s, but since the 2008-2009 recession it has stagnated and has failed to climb back to its prerecession growth rate.[ii] This unprecedented and unexplained slump has become known as the ‘productivity puzzle’ and is an issue that has caused widespread concern amongst economists, business leaders and governments within the developed world.

As productivity levels continue to stagnate, organisations are implementing AI solutions which are reminiscent of Charlie Brooker’s superb dystopian TV show ‘Black Mirror’ to help boost productivity levels. Amazon, for example has recently patented a wristband that tracks the hand movements of warehouse workers and uses vibrations to nudge them into being more productive. Veriato, a software firm, is able to track and log every keystroke employees make on their computers in order to measure how dedicated they are to their role and the company.[iii] In Helsinki, a digital innovation consultancy named ‘Futurice’ has installed sensors that can track an employee’s every move in the office, even in the toilet.[iv] Such technologies fall under the remit of what experts call the internet of things (IoT). Employees report mixed feelings about these new technologies, with a Harvard Business Review study revealing an approximate 50/50 split between those who believe AI technology enhances productivity and those who either disagree or feel its impact is neutral.[v]

marvin blog.jpg

The appeal of using advanced AI from the organisation’s perspective is clear and, although surveillance at work is not a new concept (factory workers have long clocked in and out), the scale to which certain AI technologies can now be used to monitor the productivity of the workforce is leading some commentators to suggest they are bordering on Orwellian. This inevitably raises acute philosophical questions about the ethical underpinnings of applied AI in the workplace. Indeed, just how far are organisations willing to go in the pursuit of productivity? Finding the balance between safeguarding basic privacy, workers’ rights and enhanced productivity will raise some moral dilemmas for organisations, and will no doubt become central to AI discourse in the coming years.

Finding this equilibrium will not be an easy task for organisations. A recent RSA report on the ethics of AI suggests there is a public perception that we may be surrendering too much power to AI technology.[vi] One thorny issue is that existing ethical frameworks are often incompatible with the world of technology. Science has attempted to develop ethical frameworks before – from Asimov’s Three Laws for Robots to Nick Bostrom’s work on ethics. Adhering to these frameworks can be problematic, as humans often find it difficult to develop virtues for their own conduct, let alone build relevant virtues into new technologies.[vii] The debate around ethical AI must also consider how certain workers are better equipped than others to prevent employers going too far. For example, those with a specialist, in demand skill-set stand a greater chance of resisting any unethical implementation of AI, whereas those in insecure forms of employment such as zero-hours contract workers in low-wage industries, have considerably less leverage.

In the current economic climate, solving the productivity puzzle is an alluring prize for organisations. However, if organisations wish to solve it using certain AI, it must be conscientiously executed with a strong injection of humanity to help ensure workers can retain a sense of dignity in their work during this period of accelerated and uncertain change.

[i] Krugman, P. (1994) The Age of Diminishing Expectations. Cambridge, MIT Press

[ii] Retrieved from https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/1229833/1_Productivity_at_Work_Minireport_Final_edit_2.pdf

[iii]  The Economist (2018) AI in the Workplace

[iv]  Burke, C (2016) In offices of the future, sensors may track your every move – even in the bathroom (The Guardian)

[v] Retrieved from https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/verizon/18980_HBR_Verizon_IoT_Nov_14.pdf

[vi] Balaram, B (2018) The Ethics of Ceding More Power To Machines (RSA)

[vii] Dalmia, V. Sharma, K. (2018) The Moral Dilemmas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum)

10 Facts About Our Head of Insight & Forecasting, Emma Birchall.

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Kicking off the celebrations for our 10th anniversary this October, here are 10 interesting facts about our Head of Insights and Forecasting, Emma Birchall.

  1. When did you join Hot Spots Movement?

I joined back in 2013 when we were a small team predominantly delivering the Consortium. It was a lively and creative atmosphere and, while so much has changed since then, that great ethos remains.

  1. What is your role at Hot Spots Movement?

I work across research and consulting, which is a great place to be. I look at the latest trends, identify good practice case studies, and shape the research agenda for our FoW themes. I then help our clients to craft their own future of work based on our insights, and solve complex challenges around talent and engagement. I also speak and conferences and in-company events, which I really enjoy – it’s such a great way to see people instantly react to the future of work content.

  1. What has been the most interesting project to work on?

I have worked on so many interesting projects since I joined. A few highlights for me have been the Banker of the Future research – it was fascinating to have a deep dive into one particular industry. I also really enjoy every Jam project we run – companies learn so much by tapping into their wider employee base.

  1. Which clients do you work with?

I work with lots of clients, ranging from banks to energy companies to consulting firms. I enjoy the diversity of the industries and their geographies.

  1. What has been your favourite piece of research to work on, or your favourite Masterclass?

I ran the research for the Talent Innovation theme, which looked at how technology is changing what it is that humans need to bring to work. We were one of the first companies to tap into this so it was great to be at the leading edge.

  1. What is your favourite part of your role at Hot Spots Movement?

My favourite part of my role is being with clients, figuring out complex issues and seeing our research applied within organisations. This tends to be a workshop, speaking engagement or consulting project.

  1. What has been your favourite place to travel to with Hot Spots Movement?

I loved visiting Japan – it was such an interesting trip. Amazing culture, incredible food, and such a warm welcome from our FoW members there.

  1. What is the best book that you have read in the last year?

Peter Theil, Zero to One – it is aimed at start-ups but has great tips for reinventing organisations in the face of change. I liked that it was eminently practical.

  1. What does no one know about you?

I love improvisational theatre and performing outside of work. It is great to be silly and completely free for a few hours a week. It also helps me remove the filters that we all place on our thinking, which I think helps with the research.

  1. What one thing do you think will define your future of work?

I think I’ll have multiple careers over my life time. Perhaps improvisational theatre will take off one day – who knows!

To find out more or to speak to Emma about her ongoing work, including her Inclusion and Diversity programme for organisations, contact emma@hotspotsmovement.com.

Keep an eye out for next week’s 10 facts on our Chief Operating Officer, Tina Schneidermann!

Avoiding Learned Helplessness

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Last month I was lucky enough to watch a presentation by Professor Dan Cable of London Business School, talking about a concept called Learned Helplessness and how it is affecting performance at work. Learned Helplessness is a psychological theory initially developed by Martin Seligman in the 1960’s and can be seen in many different aspects of our daily lives. The theory states that in the face of aversive stimuli, which an organism is unable to escape from, the organism will eventually accept the loss of control and give up trying to avoid the pain.

We see this in real life, more so than we are potentially aware of. Weight loss programmes are a great example. Working as an ex-swimming coach I’ve seen dozens of people decide to lose weight and pick up a new exercise regime or diet expecting instant results. When these results don’t come immediately they give up and try a different one, and another and another, eventually reaching a point of learned helplessness where they accept that they can never lose weight and give up trying.

Another example occurred at the World Cup with the Spanish football team. Spain, a footballing giant and a favourite for many to lift the trophy, sacked their manager just two days before the beginning of the tournament. What resulted from this was an embarrassment for a proud footballing nation, Spain were knocked out, in the Round of 16, by minnows Russia. Now there are many factors at play, but one suggested was that many footballers (not just Spanish ones) are so dependent on their managers direction that they’re unable to think for themselves. The Spanish team had five world cup winners in their midst, almost 60 top-tier domestic titles between them all and combined almost 950 international caps. These professionals had the experience to play with any manager, no matter who they were, yet they felt helpless to think for themselves.

So, as a professional, why is this important for you? Well there’s evidence to suggest that many employers are inadvertently creating an environment of Learned Helplessness. Employees are put to task doing mundane repetitive jobs and they lose the ability to engage their brain’s “seeking system” which we use to explore our environment and most importantly experiment and learn new things. And it’s not just repetitive tasks that can foster Learned Helplessness. Many organisations have a culture of “zero-tolerance” to failure. It’s long been known that when workers feel anxious or afraid they no longer receive the physiological reward for being creative or curious, meaning organisations are missing out on those innovative ideas that could make all the difference.


But what can you do about it? How can you ensure your employees are constantly looking to innovate, be creative and learn new things and not in a state of Learned Helplessness? Well through our work here at Hot Spots Movement, there are a couple of ways which we find to be extremely effective in encouraging innovation:

  1. Ensure Psychological Safety

A common cause of Learned Helplessness in the workplace is a fear of the repercussions of failure and a perception that it is unwise to challenge the status quo. People must feel able to try new things and potentially fail. Google’s approach to this is well documented, with 10% of their people’s time dedicated to working on high risk, potential high reward projects, where failure is seen as a perfectly acceptable outcome for pushing the boundary. Further to this, employees should be comfortable challenging the norm and challenging leaders (within reason) as well. Just because “we’ve always done it that way”, doesn’t mean that it’s the right way and you should be encouraging your people to ask “why?”

  1. Encourage an Appetite for Learning

We’ve been banging the drum on this point here at Hot Spots for a little while now. “Good Work” is work that allows you to learn new things. As Dan Cable says, you must ensure your employees’ “Seeking Systems” are engaged to ensure they don’t just go through the motions at work, feeling powerless to change course or experiment. Instead, organisations must create an environment in which people seek to learn new things and where you aid them in developing skills and requirements for the future, not just the now.

  1. Demonstrate results

Finally, Learned Helplessness can easily result if people speak up about a new idea only to have it fall on deaf ears. If you really want your employees to be proactive, take on new challenges and elevate performance, then you need to visibly act on their suggestions or, at the very least, acknowledge the idea and explain what will happen next. It only takes a couple of instances of an employee’s idea being disregarded before Learned Helplessness sets in.

So, what’s the key message for you and your team? Consider the dynamic in your organisation: are people proactive in tackling challenges and crafting a way forward? Or is there a sense of inertia, suggesting a culture of Learned Helplessness? Spot this early and start making the small changes that enable your people to feel back in control.

If you’d like to find out more about how to prevent Learned Helplessness and how you can create a culture of learning and innovation within your organisation, then please don’t hesitate to reach out at john@hotspotsmovement.com