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Four ways to help women take advantage of workforce development opportunities

  • Joanna
  • September 19, 2016

If you haven’t already read it, we highly recommend Marketing strategy expert Jenny Darroch’s article on the differences between “systematizing” and “empathizing” minds as a primer for thought and discussion about how to better communicate to women the value of workforce opportunity programs.

That article detailed research by cognitive neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, he’s related to the comedian — they’re cousins) and offered 15 research-based attributes that are more common in women.

Not all of these traits are directly applicable to communicating the benefit of workforce opportunity programs to women. (Point number 9, for instance, suggests that people with empathizing minds are “less likely to murder.”) Many of the points, though, have great potential when it comes to helping women see and pursue opportunities to improve their lives. Today we’re going to explore four of these points and couple them with communication strategies aimed at increasing women’s engagement and success in such programs.

Women tend to share and take turns.

Learning about workforce opportunity programs is often like drinking through a fire hose — a blast of information with few opportunities to ask questions and share experiences.

To engage more women, evaluate whether your marketing and recruitment strategies are balanced when it comes to providing and collecting information.

Does your website have a place where people can ask questions? That’s a great start. Does it have a place where people who are interested in enrollment can share their stories? That could be an even better strategy to engaging empathizing minds.

Women tend to respond empathetically to the distress of others.

When a potential recruit shares an obstacle they are facing in their life that might prohibit engagement in a change-your-life program, the tendency is to immediately offer a solution. That’s a systematizing mind approach — one that tends to work better for men than women.

The good news about offering advice and solutions is that you can

always get there eventually. Taking a few extra moments to better understand someone’s distress, though, can pay big dividends when it comes to helping them make an affirmative decision to engage in your program.

Here’s an example: Since women are far more likely to be single parents than men, one of the first things program recruiters will hear from women is a concern about child care. The systematizing response is: “No problem! We have free child care available on-sight!” The empathizing approach is: “I think we can help you with that concern: Can you tell me about your children?”

Either way, we can eventually describe the solutions we offer. The empathizing approach, though, gives us an opportunity to learn more about the person with whom we are speaking, let’s them know that we care about them as individuals, and helps us custom-tailor our response to their specific needs and concerns.

Women tend to value altruistic and reciprocal relationships more than those based around power, politics and competition.

The good news about workforce opportunity programs is that, by intention and design, they’re quite altruistic. The bad news is that they’re not all that reciprocal — or, at least, the reciprocal qualities of the program aren’t often front and center in our communication strategies.

Women are more likely to want to know what they can do and will be expected to do in return for an act of generosity, such as a free program to help them get their high school diploma or an opportunity to earn a career credential. And, lacking a front-and-center answer to that question, they’re more likely to be suspicious of motives or feel unworthy of the opportunity.

Proactive communication about the opportunities for reciprocation can be enormously effective, both in terms of recruitment and retention. If the people who have successfully completed your program aren’t already being asked to engage with those who are considering enrollment or who are currently engaged, you’re missing out on the well-established principal of persuasion known as “social proof” — and missing an opportunity to demonstrate one way in which participants can give back in appreciation of what they’ve been given.

Women tend to be less aggressive.

We generally think of aggression as something physical directed at other people. It can be, but it is also something psychological that impacts personal decision making. Aggressive people incline toward making faster decisions, while reticent people incline toward taking time to think things over.

If your marketing and communication strategy hinges in any way on the idea that the opportunity to take advantage of a program is limited, either by time or maximum enrollment, you’re missing out the ways in which the principal of persuasion known as “scarcity” can be applied to people who, by virtue of having a more empathizing mind, make decisions more thoughtfully. Simply put: They’re not likely to act fast and ask questions later.

Instead, communication of scarcity should be framed not by the limitations of availability but rather by the totality of what is being offered — it is true, after all, that truly altruistic opportunities to change one’s life don’t come around every day. And while it might also be true that funding, maximum enrollment or other conditions may mean that those who don’t act fast will miss out on an opportunity, that message should be couched in a commitment that every conceivable question can and will be answered in plenty of time to meet whatever deadline exists.