I am a tech recruiter working for an American Bank in India. I deal with campus placements (as is the norm in India). My company, especially the Indian branch, has recently come under fire (and rightly so) for lacking diversity in their tech sector. We already had certain affirmative action programs, but this renewed awareness has caused the upper level management to double down on the same.

As a result of the same, we have started receiving "Recruitment Guidelines". They basically are internal memos which describe what should be expected from a batch of on campus recruits. And it contains several valid points, but one point which implicitly means that the ratio of men to women hired should be as uniform as possible. While they are not in any way binding, they should ideally be followed. We at first did not take it seriously, because this was one of the dozen memos that are dumped on us every month, but after a first few rounds of recruitment (we recruit in rounds. Starting from the best colleges and then slowly moving towards the moderate ones), we started receiving pressure from the upper management because the gender ratio was not being maintained (unfortunately, as is the case with most of our hires, the men vastly outnumbered the women), and they in turn were being pressured by hire ups for the region (APAC) and up the entire chain.

This has put us in a very tricky situation. In order to maintain the stipulated ratio requirements, we have had a sort of hiring crisis. This is especially bad because the STEM fields in India are generally lopsided in terms of number of men vs women in the field. There are two ways in which some of us have started dealing with this:

  1. Severely restricted the number of hires. We have started limiting the number of males we hire to the number of suitable female candidates. This is causing us to lose out on some serious talent.
  2. Lower the bar in order to match the number of female candidates to male candidates. This may cause a dilution in the quality of the candidates coming in.

I believe that such a practice is not sustainable and to my end I have already written to senior management about my concerns and have suggested replacing the current practice with the following:

  1. Organize "Women Only" placement seminars in order to help women better understand our requirements and prepare accordingly.
  2. Conduct blind coding rounds in order to shortlist candidates, to weed out any recruiter bias and shore up diversity.

The response I received was lukewarm and it is unlikely that my suggestions are being taken seriously. But I still do feel responsible for the quality and quantity(yes it matters too) of candidates I am recruiting from colleges. So, my questions are:

  1. Is this cause worth haggling over? Or should I just consider it to be an order given by my boss and follow the same?
  2. If it is worth haggling over, how else can I make my concerns known to the decision makers higher up?
  3. Is there a way in which I can implement the current guidelines without harming the talent pool?
  4. Or should I just consider it to be "Not my burden to bear" and blindly go ahead with implementing the same?

Also, if it matters, I am a senior male recruiter with about 6 years of experience in managing campus recruitment.

EDIT: Clarifications as asked for in the comments:

  1. Yes, the number of applicants itself is lopsided. Men outnumber women 3:1. E.g: For every 10 female applicants, there are 30 male applicants.
  2. As mentioned, the memo is a set of guidelines. They are not legally binding. But I have been receiving heat for not following them and will affect my appraisals.

I call the affirmative action as being too broad because it fails to take into account the lopsided ratio/number of the pool of eligible candidates which in itself is perpetuated by the fact that the number of men studying in STEM fields in India vastly outnumbers the number of women. I understand that a lot of this must be caused by the imposition of gender stereotypes on young girls, but there is little that I as a recruiter can do to fix the ratio of men to women studying in STEM fields. To my knowledge, other affirmative actions like Reservation in India are very much dictated by the demographics and hence are sustainable.


People are suggesting that I get more women to apply. Like I said earlier, I deal with campus recruitments, hence my pool of possible candidates is limited to the students studying in the particular university that I am visiting. That limits the number of women who apply, as the number of women studying in STEM coursers itself is minute compared to the number of men. There are other college neutral hiring pipelines, like online coding competitions and hackathons, but I do not handle those.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. random-user, please make edits to the question to respond to comments (as you have been doing ) and everyone else, take chatty comments to... chat.
    – enderland
    Aug 8, 2017 at 14:36
  • 1
    A 3:1 ratio of any type of under represented group is pretty good. What are the expectations? Are woman proportionately less qualified?
    – user8365
    Aug 8, 2017 at 16:58

6 Answers 6


The Answer

Stick to your guidelines, even if they are absurd. In my opinion gender ratios like these are just a way to make your company look 'diverse'. It's marketing and has nothing to do with actual talent recruitment. Talent recruitment should be about finding the most talented candidates possible, regardless of their skin color or gender. That being said, stick to the guidelines. If it's company policy then you have to go with it till you are able to change it or find it upsetting enough to leave.

The Rant

Of course you are going to have more male candidates. In most countries — even more so in developing ones — the ratio of men-to-woman studying — and interested — in IT related fields is incredibly lopsided. You can not fix this with recruitment ratios. Hiring woman because they are woman is exactly what gender equality is not about.


First of all, your strategies to deal with bias in your recruiters are a big step forward from your colleagues' position. However, you're still missing an important point in that you are trying to reach your company's target with your current cohort of candidates. If you want more women, you have to get more of them in the door. So you need to ask more difficult questions:

  • Is there anything that dissuades strong women candidates from applying? This could be anything from job descriptions, to imagery on the website, to the company's line of business, to the way interviews are conducted, to the working environment.

  • Does your company really understand what a quality candidate is? For example, raw coding ability is only a small part of what makes a good engineer. The finer points of exam grades are in all likelihood irrelevant for the health of your business. Simple metrics are often a poor guide as to who will become a well-rounded employee. Also, you're presumably recruiting for people to join teams; teams function better with a range of perspectives and you need to be asking how much will each candidate enhance the team he/she is put in, not just their solo skills.

  • Do they really believe that "best college" automatically means "best candidates"? Are you inheriting the gender biases of college admissions tutors? Could you try approaching all colleges at the same time to get a wider pool of candidates?

And ultimately, go to your recent women hires and get their feedback as to why they applied, and what they thought of the recruitment experience. In all probability they will have useful new insights.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 10, 2017 at 7:45
  • I agree, stick to the guidelines. They are basically what is being asked of you. If you can't deliver them, proof you are trying is better than arguing that they are invalid. Also, expand where you look for candidates. "Because we have a hard time finding women, we additionall recruit from women programming support groups" is an acceptable way to stick to the guidelines and improve upon the current approach.
    – Edwin Buck
    Jul 10, 2021 at 17:51

The short answer is: you not do much about it - on your level (i assume not management/executive) the options which you have are

  • don't fill the positions (currently hiring it is limited by the amount of available female candidates) - this increases pressure to the management to deal with the problem (an e.g. help universities in advertising the subject appropriately)

  • accept female candidates from other subjects and accept training for their new jobs - whether this is a good solution depends on the job; while i think it is realistic to educate somebody who is motivated to a junior web developer in a few months, SW architects may be more complicated - the new employees may require continuous attention in order to catch up having studied another subject.

  • ask for a higher budget for hiring to go trough more people.

In my experience achieving gender equality is not a big problem as long as you can allow to cherry-pick for the best candidates - since women who studied STEM subjects against the picture in the society (and thus were preselected) are usually very motivated, and in average also more talented than their male peers. In my experience (Europe) as long as i was looking for the top 5% of applicants for a technical position, the gender ratio of people passing into the second interview round was pretty balanced, when I had to go to the top 25% the story was different.

In my experience it is not unusual that management and executives dont understand the statistics of this very well.

EDIT: I prefer the second option, since you can find more bright people. Typically broadening your view when hiring is good - motivation, dedication and talent in my experience often (not always) beat good grades, or a long experience.

  • This doesn't include the option of explaining the situation to management. If the OP has been given an unachievable target for their appraisal, then that should be their focus because it will affect their pay and career progression. Gather evidence to try and shift the focus to something more reasonable (e.g. a modest increase).
    – Stuart F
    Feb 13 at 15:44

This is a classic mismatch of goals.

You want to recruit talented people selected in a fair manner irrespective of gender or other bias.

Upper management wants to hire more women.

As you can see, the 2 goals are not only completely different, they actually contradict each other. Upper management made it pretty clear that they want gender bias, favoring women. Your goal is not their goal. Either you adapt or you prepare for consequences.

  • 2
    "You want to recruit talented people" -- if that's the goal then the questioner has an incorrect strategy. Recruiting from universities (especially in a country with relatively low university enrollment as a proportion of population: 12% in India) is a way to find people who are well-educated, not a way to find people who are talented. But I don't think the questioner's goal is so simplistic as either of those, I don't think they're daft ;-) But consider: how it is possible to recruit people who are well-educated in a fair manner, if you believe the education system is not fair? Aug 8, 2017 at 12:16
  • @Peter The goals only contradict each other a dangerous assumption, that there are no highly qualified female candidates. But let's let that slide for a moment, there is also a lot of evidence that hiring for "highly qualified" candidate only yields averagely performing candidates under the best of scenarios due to statistics. Considering that his "highly qualified" is likely to only land average candidates, I'd say his chances of satisfying both goals at once are much higher.
    – Edwin Buck
    Jul 10, 2021 at 17:57

Instead asking whether you should dodge the rules, why don't you ask for suggestions on how to get more women on board?

Male dominated workplaces may have developed a culture that will scare off women. Perhaps you can ask the women you do have, what you can do to attract more women.

Perhaps your recruitment policy favors people with a more aggressive attitude (and I don't mean they are violent or anything).

My company is also very focused on this, but as there are some jobs that will always attract more men, we have some departments with a lot of women and others with a lot of men. Overall, there is a balance.

  • 3
    This misses the point. The question addressed a fundamental imbalance in the pool of candidates, and the mismatch to the rules.
    – Sascha
    Aug 8, 2017 at 8:10
  • 2
    Julia Hayward explained it better but this does not miss the point. Most of these directives exist for good reason and gender inequality is a very real problem with very real macro-social consequences. As so the OP must adapt to the new challenges. It may be hard in the beginning but eventually it easier.
    – armatita
    Aug 8, 2017 at 8:21
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    "Perhaps you can ask the women you do have, what you can do to attract more women." +1 for listening to women. But of course the women you already hired aren't the ideal people to answer your questions. Ideally, you'd ask the women who were scared off about what scared them off. Yeah, that's a "challenge"... Aug 8, 2017 at 9:28
  • This answer completely misses the fact that in the OP's case, there isn't this magical infinite pool of qualified women to pull from. There just simply aren't enough people.
    – Pyritie
    Aug 8, 2017 at 12:35
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    After the question was edited, I can now see that my answer won't help. @armatita You're quite right, forcing these rules will drive the change. Of course that won't give the OP much comfort.
    – Paul
    Aug 9, 2017 at 5:53

You most probably have a contradicting set of rules you have to apply. I assume that you have a certain amount of recruits that you are expected to find which have a certain quality and the expected gender ratio.

So in a first step you could simply ask for a clarification which rule should be changed.

  • I appreciate your feedback, but unfortunately that is not how recruiting works, especially for a company the size of mine. There is no "fixed" number of candidates that I have to hire. It is fine if the numbers are low, but I would have a problem with letting go competent candidates in order to maintain the ratio. Aug 8, 2017 at 6:37
  • 4
    Then why don't you ask if you should dismiss good male candidates or fail to meet the ratio?
    – FooTheBar
    Aug 8, 2017 at 7:02

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