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  • Report
  • 11th Jun 2021

Increasing applications from women through targeted referrals

Research report

Key findings

  • How can you boost the number of women in male-dominated industries like #defence and tech? 🎖️ 💻 We partnered with @DefenceHQ and found that challenging hiring managers to share job ads with 5 women doubled the number of women applying!
  • We ran an RCT with @DefenceHQ to see if targeted referrals could boost informal referrals, applications and hires of women. Results: ♀️ Share of women referrals increased from 41% to 54% 💼 Number of women who were offered the job nearly doubled!

We partnered with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to run a two-armed randomised controlled trial (RCT) testing whether using targeted referrals would increase the referrals, applications and hires of women. As hiring managers advertised new vacancies in areas of MOD where women had been historically underrepresented, they were randomly allocated to either the control group or the intervention group. 

Managers in the intervention group received an email inviting them to challenge their team to share the role with five women. Managers in the control group did not receive this communication. We ran the trial for five months, from August 2020 to December 2020, and the sample consisted of all 784 hiring managers for 1,052 vacancies created in the trial period, which received 18,841 applications. 


  • Targeted referrals improved the gender balance among referrals (54% women), while referrals in the control group reflected the gender make-up of the organisation (40% women). 
  • Twice as many women were referred to a vacancy in the intervention group. The intervention increased the number of applications from women and the number of offers made to women. 
  • However, it also resulted in more men applying and receiving offers. As a result, the intervention did not lead to significant changes in the share of applications from women and the share of offers made to women. 
  • There was no backfire effect on the share of applications from other minority applicants, in terms of ethnicity, sexuality and disability. 
  • Finally, the intervention had a positive impact on the quality of applicants as vacancies in the intervention group were significantly more likely to find a suitable candidate compared to the control group. 

Our results suggest that targeted referrals can rebalance existing inequality in informal referrals. 

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