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December 19, 2013

How the wording of your recruitment advertising can exclude women

To paraphrase James Brown, this is a man’s world but it would be nothing without a woman. Great strides have been made in the arena of gender inequality since the Suffragettes first began lobbying for women’s right to vote, but there’s no doubt there is a long way to go. When you look at the very top of the tree you’ll notice that in the FTSE 100 there are just three female CEOs. Hardly a representational figure given that women account for more than half the world’s population.

Aside from the serious issue of gender inequality in most walks of life, recent studies have highlighted that how we word recruitment advertising has a drastic effect on whether women or men apply for the advertised role, irrelevant of how suited they are for the job.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that men and women respond more to adverts that are worded in a way that reinforces their traditional gender stereotypes. Men felt they were more suited to jobs that favoured traits such as ‘drive’, ‘competitive’ and ‘determined’ while women favoured jobs advertised with words such as ‘collaborative’ and ‘committed’. What is even more interesting is that it was possible to get men to find traditionally female-dominated careers more appealing by wording the job advert using masculine words, and vice versa.

A separate study also found that women were more likely to believe that they wouldn’t be suitable for a job if it was written using traditionally masculine words, even if their skill set and experience was a perfect match. While another piece of research also indicates that women will tend to apply for a job where they match 100 per cent of the listed requirements, but men are more confident and will apply for a job as long as they match 60 per cent of necessary skills.

So what does this mean for your recruitment advertising plans? We can take a couple of pieces of information from this to help create compelling job adverts that attract people from across the spectrum instead of reinforcing gender roles.

Be Gender Inclusive.
It’s tough to do make things entirely gender neutral, because our concept of gender and difference is so ingrained in us from childhood. Most people in the research listed above didn’t even realise the words were worded in masculine and feminine gendered language, but felt their reaction was due to the actual job. Try and include words in job adverts that are either neutral or at least include a mix of feminine and masculine wording.

Only List Essential Skills.
Because women will avoid applying for a job they believe is a perfect match try to list only the really essential skills. Remember that people may have many secondary skills that can be adapted to a new job, or they can be trained on the job. If you want a wider pool of applicants only specify skills that are vital in the advert.

It’s important to realise that by limiting your pool of candidates because of the language used in your recruitment advertising is a serious problem. The ideal candidate could completely pass your organisation by because of their subconscious interpretation of the gender bias in your advert copy, which in this job market isn’t something you want to happen.