Wellcome Trust improves gender balance without using quotas

Natalie Hannan, Early Careers Manager at Wellcome Trust delves into how they used data from Applied to balance the gender split of candidates reaching interview - without using quotas.

When we first launched with Applied, we found that we had a drop in male candidates making it through to the interview stage. This revealed that previously we had been subconsciously ‘bumping up’ some applications to create a more gender balanced candidate pool. We didn’t want to do this as it felt more important to look deeper at why this group was not faring as well.

We identified a tendency in applications from male candidates towards self-promotion, whereas women tended to provide more context and emphasise their role in a team. It meant male candidates were receiving lower scores overall. So we decided to address this directly by adding a question to the process where we asked candidates to share what they believe their own areas for development were and why improving on that would help them in the role. We still progressed the same number of male candidates to the video interview stage as previously but we saw a much lower drop off rate as we progressed to later stages of the process.

In 2019 8% of candidates at final interview were male compared to 2020 where 27% of candidates were male. All male candidates who reached the final interview were hired onto the scheme. We also saw from the post hire report that our new question was the most predictive question so this was a great result.

Adding this question did lead to a small drop-off in overall candidates – this could be the impact of an additional question to answer or due to less appetite to answer a question like this, which requires an element of self-awareness and vulnerability - but we were so impressed with the level of maturity in the candidates we met. We consider this a huge success story and could never have made such a meaningful change to our process without having the data to diagnose where the issues were in meeting our aspirations on gender equality.


Wellcome Trust exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. Wellcome is an independent global charitable foundation.

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