Blue Waters Residential is having a bumper year, with 50% growth in the number of properties and 90% increase in the number of developments benefitting from our cost-effective and conscientious approach to residential block management.

As a result, as well as a lot of work behind the scenes and investing in new processes, we’re also finalising details for advertising a couple of new full-time positions within the company. With the space for new property managers and operations managers to join our ever-growing company, we naturally want to attract candidates best suited to complement our existing block property management team and deliver the same high standards that we’re known for.

We obviously don’t want to discriminate against any property management candidates in our search for the best employees (because it’s the right thing to do, not just the legal correct thing!), but equally we don’t want to discriminate against anyone before they’ve even become candidates! For that reason, based on the latest research by campaign group Global Witness, we’ll be steering well clear of advertising our property management vacancies on Facebook.

Sexist Advertising

Why? As reported today by the BBC, Facebook’s algorithm is making it’s own judgements on who should be shown recruitment adverts, and on face value those judgements can be construed as incredibly sexist.

For example, Global Witness advertised on Facebook for an opening as a mechanic. Of the people Facebook chose to serve the advert to, 96% were men.

Another advert was created for a job opportunity as a nursery nurse. 95% of people served the recruitment advert were women.

The two other adverts created as part of the test also served gender-biased audiences: 75% men for an airline pilot, and 77% women for a psychologist.

These gender biases on face value are of course eye-watering. But in deciding on whether or not to use Facebook as a platform to advertise our property manager vacancy, how about we start by playing devil’s advocate and understand why Facebook is doing this?

Facebook displays content it thinks its users will interact with. It predicts what adverts (and any other content) it believes an individual will interact with based on their past behaviours as well as the behaviours of people it assesses to be similar. If Facebook (hypothetically) recognised that mechanic adverts tend to perform well with people who post up images of cars a lot, and you post up pictures of your shiny suped-up VW every day, then Facebook is going to understandably put two and two together. It’s job is to put the right product in front of the right people, and if the clicks bear that out it’ll just keep on doing it.

Can Facebook change?

Of course that means that those predictions are based on Facebook’s direct experience of the perpetuation of existing social norms and biases within the population. If Facebook’s algorithm decides over time that it best serves adverts for property manager opportunities to men (again, hypothetically: we haven’t tested that scenario ourselves) then it will keep doing it until one of three things happens:

  1. The demographic clicking on the recruitment advert for property managers changes through societal shifts of its own accord/from new societal pressures.
  2. The advertiser changes the advertising settings so they are in themselves discriminatory in a different way (e.g serve this property manager advert only to women).
  3. Facebook allows the advertiser to specifically ignore certain signals instead of specifying them.

If Blue Waters wasn’t keen on doing things differently and being an agent for change then we wouldn’t be writing this blog post, so of course we wish to be part of setting business practises which help drive positive societal changes, and so naturally the first option is one we would endorse. It’s also the only one of the three options that is explicitly achieved with or without Facebook, and doesn’t really address the discrimination being actively baked into the platform itself, so it’s not really a solution to the specific problem.

The third option of ignoring a signal (e.g. gender) rather than selecting by it would certainly present a solution, but it is the antithesis of Facebook’s value as an advertising platform. Making adverts less targeted means more wasted impressions, and maximising the value of on-screen real estate is the essence of Facebook’s business model. Facebook trusts its algorithms more than us as to who would be interested in a property manager job: our desire to make advertising our property manager position non-discriminatory is currently secondary to their need to maximise advert click-through rates. This is the kind of change that would probably need to be forced on Facebook through legislation… and we all know from recent history how hard that can be.

On first examination the second option is (in isolation) obviously overtly discriminatory. Avoiding making a pre-emptive judgement about what gender we think our property management candidates should be is exactly why we’re writing this post. Using a hybrid approach might contain some merit though. Rather than engaging in direct positive discrimination, rebalancing the gender bias from an initial advert by running it again with gender-discriminating settings to even up the numbers of each gender receiving it might be considered a work-around.

Hold on, did we just find a solution?

Example: if we ran a Facebook advert for our block property manager vacancy to 1000 people and it only reached 200 men, and we decided we wanted to make sure we were giving men the same chance to at least consider the opportunity as women, then we could potentially serve the same advert to only men 600 times to even up the distribution to 800 each. In isolation that second advert would be discriminatory, but by serving the same advert for the same property manager opportunity would be a clear attempt to remove the advertising gender bias. Assuming Facebook’s algorithm to be correct, we would then expect a worse click-through rate for the balancing advert, but at least we could enter the next stage of the recruitment process confident that our distribution of property management candidates was a fair reflection of the appetite for the opportunity, and not simply a reflection on the distribution of who Facebook had chosen to show the advert to.

Maybe a hybrid advert+rebalance campaign might work for making sure that filling our property manager vacancy gets off to the correct non-dicriminatory start. Maybe not.

At least we’re asking the right questions of our processes, just as we endeavour to do throughout our business. Recruiting for a small business like Blue Waters is always presents challenges, but having grown throughout the pandemic and even more so as we begin to emerge into the post-lockdown period, we’re glad to be able to be soon giving the opportunities to join us in delivering great service for all our clients along with flexible working and remote working options.

In the meantime

Potential property managers

Of course, anyone so keen they want to jump the gun and send us a CV and covering letter anyway… well, don’t let us stop you! So if you’re a vampire-slaying business woman, you’re feeling like a zombie in your current employment, or… err… Jar-Jar Binks (well, the fall of the Republic was pretty much all his fault so he really was excellent at his job!) we’re pretty sure any good property manager candidate currently reading this blog post shouldn’t find obtaining our contact details from our own website too challenging…

  • Office 9,
  • Seton Business Centre,
  • Scorrier,
  • Redruth,
  • Cornwall,
  • TR16 5AW