Gendered language – why it matters in your recruitment materials

Gendered language is not always easy to understand or identify. But the words and phrases that we use can unintentionally reinforce gender stereotypes that can be harmful to both women and men.

What is gendered language?

Gendered language is commonly understood as language that has a bias towards a particular social gender. For example ‘beer’ is considered a masculine word as it is traditionally consumed by men. Prosecco on the other hand is considered a feminine word, as it is associated with being consumed by women.

Yet, we know that both men and women drink beer and prosecco and this is not determined by their gender, however, the cultural and societal connotations and associations around each of the words reinforce these gendered stereotypes.

But why does this matter in STEM?

Because language can have a bias towards a gender, it is important to consider this when writing job descriptions. Commonly used words and phrases in recruitment materials can reinforce unhelpful stereotypes and inadvertently exclude certain groups from applying for roles. By considering the wording, structure, and tone of the job advert, employers can start to attract a more diverse pool of applicants.

The University of Waterloo and Duke (2011) conducted research demonstrating that language used in job recruitment materials can maintain gender inequality in traditionally male – dominated occupations. Men make up around 75% of STEM roles in Scotland.  They found that the inadvertent and subtle use of masculine language or words that were strongly associated with the male gender prevented women from applying for these jobs. Whereas when feminine language was used instead to describe the same job role women were more attracted to the job description.  While the research showed that both men and women show a preference for job descriptions matching their gender, this affected women more strongly than their male counterparts.

Interestingly, what the researchers discovered was that none of the participants in the study recognised the use of language and the effect it had on their interest in the job adverts. This is because gendered language is subtle and inadvertently reinforces gendered stereotypes. It is what we call unconscious bias.

The study found that the presence of masculine words such as ‘challenge’, ‘confident’ ‘lead’, ‘boast’, and ‘ambitious’ in job advertisements were less appealing to women than men. Though women are of course, ambitious, confident, and ready for a challenge the research indicates that they are hesitant to apply for roles that include these words, despite not being aware of it.

Based on this research, Total Jobs analysed over 75,000 job adverts for gendered language. They found that only 20% of job adverts were gender -neutral. Masculine coded language was most commonly used across science, sales and in senior positions, whereas feminine coded language was commonly found across social care, hospitality and supporting roles. Reinforcing gendered stereotypes around men being leaders and women being caring or having supportive qualities.

How Equate Scotland can support you.

While gendered language will not address the gender imbalance in STEM on its own, employers should be mindful of who their job descriptions are speaking to. At Equate Scotland we review job descriptions and recruitment materials for any gendered language and make recommendations on how to widen the applicant pool by eliminating unconscious biases.

If you or your company would like advice on eliminating gendered language contact or visit the Equate CareerHub.