Gender Bias in Job Ads: Subtle or Strong?

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It will come as no surprise to hear that employers are no longer allowed to use any form of discrimination when hiring new staff. Anti-discrimination acts have been in place for many years and on the face of it, they seem to do the job. But more recently evidence has suggested that the way job advertisements are presented can result in attracting more applicants from a particular gender and ultimately lead to a sustained lack of diversity in the workplace.

A number of different research studies suggest that the way in which a job advert is worded can have a profound impact on the ratio of male to female applicants. Back in 2011 the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a report, which claimed that “women were less likely to believe they belonged in a particular job when the advertisement used masculine wording”. In 2016 their findings were backed up by an augmented writing platform called Textio who, after further research into the use of language in job applications, also found similar patterns. They suggested that there are a number of key words and phrases which, when used in an advert for a job, would result in significantly more men to apply than women, or visa-versa.

So, what are these male or female orientated words? Well, it has been suggested that men are particularly drawn in by applications which contain the following words: leader, competitive, dominant, fearless and enforcement. Women on the other hand, are supposedly more enticed by job adverts which use words such as: transparent, support, interpersonal and understand.

Whilst it cannot be proven that we all fall subject to the use of gendered wording, the research does show a significant correlation between adverts utilising words associated with male characteristics and jobs which tend to me male dominated. The concern is that raising the likelihood of a particular gender applying for a role, increases the chance of gender disparity within the workplace and even more worryingly enforces gender and social stereotypes which surround certain occupations.

Adzuna, the search engine for job advertisements, carried out extensive research into the area last year. They discovered that consultancy job adverts had the most male bias and domestic help and cleaning adverts had the most female bias. This could go some way to help explain the sustained gender pay gap, because it seems the best paying occupations have been putting off women from applying and the worst paid occupations are predominantly targeted at women. 

It seems that there is therefore an argument for stronger rules to be put in place when it comes to discrimination before and during employment. The government already states online that where you advertise might cause indirect discrimination, such as advertising in men’s magazines only. So perhaps the next logical step forward would be for the government to add advice on how to avoid gendered wording in recruitment, so that wage disparities don’t arise, before men and women have even started working.