Gender inequality is often perpetuated because of institutionalised paradigms in society. Lack of flexible work hours, or differences in maternity and paternity leave are just some of the structures that promote the gender gap.
Gendered language is another one. A study conducted by Textio found that the language in a job posting significantly impacted gender of its applicants.
The study found that less men than women were applying for the 14 fastest growing jobs in the U.S. because of the perceived feminine language in these postings.
Job listings for health aides show that the words used for these jobs tend to have ‘feminine’ characteristics. Examples of such words are ‘sympathetic,’ ‘care,’ ‘empathy’ and ‘families.’
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In contrast, the job listings for a cartographer had words with a ‘masculine’ connotation. Words such as ‘manage,’ ‘forces,’ ‘exceptional,’ ‘proven,’ and ‘superior’ were prevalent in these job listings.
A study by Gaucher, Friesen and Kay coded over 4,000 job adverts and found that job ads in male dominated fields had many more masculine coded words than in female dominated fields. And research has found that these kinds of job listing dissuaded women from applying.
According to Textio, gender neutral language can help an employer 14 days faster than posts with a gender bias.
So yes, all you prospective employers try and use language that is more neutral. Textio says try and use ‘premier’ instead of ‘world class’ and handle a fast-paced schedule’ instead of manage it.
And if you are confused as to which words are gender neutral, and which words aren’t you can always use Kat Matfield’s gender decoder for job ads. Simply paste your job description and the technology will throw up words that have a gender tilt. I tried it with randomly picked job listings from naukri.com for IT professionals, software engineers and nurses, and did indeed find that these jobs had a distinct gender bias in terms of their words used.
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But what was baffling to me when I read about these studies was why words even have a gender bias. Why is pink a girl’s word and blue a boy’s and why is family a woman’s word and “exceptional” a man’s?
According to a seminal psychological study (Eagly, 1987), gendered wording arises from observations of differences in role-based behaviours. Since women were traditionally seen as the homemaker, and men as the breadwinner, gender was associated with the traits associated with this roles.
These kinds of mindsets are very very difficult to change. So it does make sense for employers to start with taking gender bias out of job listings in order to narrow the gender gap in job applications.
“Our minds are stubborn beasts that are hard to change, but it’s not hard to de-bias the application process,” says behavioral economist Iris Bohnet, a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, in an article for the Harvard Business Review.
I asked Nilesh Patil, an HR professional at an electronics company, in which the employees are mostly men, about whether he is aware of the implications that a simple job posting can have. He said that he wasn’t and when asked if he would implement gender neutral, he said he would try, but wasn’t sure how. Perhaps more training and awareness about the language we use is another way that companies could become more gender inclusive.
Another interesting find is that women will only apply for jobs where they think that they can meet each and every one of the requirements listed on its description, whereas men will apply regardless of whether they meet all the requirements.
Cutting down unnecessary requirements on job postings can help narrow the gender gap in the applicant pool. These studies show that the way we communicate can have lasting implications on the way society is structured. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, an we must it responsibly.