Research shows that gendered language in job descriptions discriminates against women – but companies are beginning to address it


Traditional gender roles are reinforced by job adverts, a new study shows, which analysed 750,000 job postings by UK job board Totaljobs.

Less than one per cent of the adverts analysed highlight an employer’s parental leave policy, and job adverts are seven times more likely to mention perks like pet-friendly offices and socials, rather than parental leave.

As a result, only 31 per cent of UK workers questioned are aware of their employer’s parental leave policies, even though 85 per cent know about their workplace’s general perks. 59 per cent of the jobs adverts analysed use the phrase ‘maternity leave’ rather than neutral terms such as ‘parental leave’, reinforcing the perception of childcare as a female responsibility. The survey also shows that men are just as likely to want children as women (74 per cent versus 76 per cent), yet the absence of phrases such as ‘paternity leave’ ignores the fact that men can also opt to be primary carers.

It’s not the first study of this nature. Job site Adzuna conducted a similar study in 2019, while a 2014 study by academics Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen and Aaron Kay shows that popular recruiting words such as ‘ambitious’, ‘assertive’ and ‘decisive’ are seen as male gendered. Research shows that women are subconsciously put off applying for roles that they’re qualified for, when overwhelmingly ‘masculine’ language is used in the job description.

The impact of removing gendered language from job listings has been highlighted by Britain’s biggest water company Thames Water, whose hiring team recently used an online tool to detect hidden bias in language as part of a drive to recruit more women into operational roles.

Its advertisement for a process technician role removed ‘masculine-coded’ words such as ‘competitive’, ‘confident’ and ‘champion’ and replaced them with phrases like ‘team players’. The resulting applicants were 46 per cent female – a vast increase from a similar, previously advertised technician role, which attracted only eight per cent women applicants.

“In order to bring about real change, women need more seats at the table,” says Lucia Farrance, who leads the Women In Ops Recruitment Project at Thames Water. “There is a huge pool of untapped female talent out there.”

“For those industries that need to make the active effort to move towards gender-neutrality this isn’t simply a social prerogative but also carries significant economic bonus,” adds Iain Moss, B2B marketing manager at Adzuna.

“Diversity in the workplace has been shown to improve sales revenue and profits. Given the simplicity of the changes needed for gender-neutral wording and the vast social and economic benefits, alongside the moral imperative, it’s essential that industries do start paying attention to the way their job adverts are written. Words do matter.”

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