The largest ever study of UK job adverts highlights widespread use of ‘gender-coded language’, with male bias worse in search for senior, board-level and STEM roles.
Employers and recruiters across the UK are putting their diversity at risk by unconsciously using gender-biased language in job adverts, according to the largest ever study on the language of UK recruitment.
The study by job board totaljobs reviewed 76,000 UK jobs adverts over a six-week period and highlighted how employers unwittingly bias their hunt for talent by using gender-biased language in job descriptions. Totaljobs’ analysis found 478,175 female and male-biased words used throughout the job ads, or an average of six gender-coded words per advert.
The most commonly used male-biased words in UK job descriptions include ‘Lead’, ‘Analyse’, ’Competitive’, ‘Active’, and ‘Confident’ – while the most commonly used female-biased ones are ‘Support’, ‘Responsible’, ‘Understanding’, ‘Dependable’, and ‘Committed’.
The job description that used the most male-coded words (67) in its description was a ‘Senior Revenue Manager’, while the most female-biased job advert was for a ‘Residential Worker’ (46) followed closely by ‘Nursery Nurse’ (44 mentions).
The research also found that job descriptions for senior positions were more likely to have an unconscious male bias. For example, job ads looking for positions including the title ‘Director’ and ‘Partner’ showed a 22% skew towards using male-biased language.
When looking at individual sectors, certain industries are more prone to biasing their search for candidates and undermining their efforts to champion diversity as a result. For example, in spite of a range of STEM initiatives designed to get more women into roles in science, roles in the sector are still the most likely to use male-coded language according the 677 job descriptions the study analysed. Some 62% of adverts for roles in science used male-biased language, compared to just 28% that used female.
By contrast, social care was the sector most likely to use female-coded language when the 1,687 jobs from this sector were analysed, closely followed by vacancies in the sport and fitness sector.
Perhaps surprisingly, IT jobs came the closest to providing equality, even if only through even amounts of gender bias. Of the 13,000 IT jobs looked at as part of the study, 12% used gender-neutral language and male and female gender bias occurred equally with a 44% / 44% split.
David Clift, HR Director at totaljobs, commented: “Employers have taken great strides in driving greater opportunities for employees, but these findings showcase exactly how much further we have to go to promote diversity and equal opportunity across every sector of the UK economy.
“It is clear that gender stereotypes in relation to certain roles are so entrenched, the market needs to take action to address this. Only by addressing the unconscious bias that still exists at the very start of a candidate search, can we move towards truly diverse workforces and make inroads in tacking major challenges like the Gender Pay Gap. We hope both recruiters embrace the new Gender Bias Decoder and take the opportunity to do the ground work to help them avoid perpetuating the issues that April’s new legislation will seek to address.”