Totaljobs study reveals that UK job adverts carry unconscious gender bias

With diversity and the gender-pay gap a key focus of many UK organisations, we have conducted extensive research into how the language of a job ad could impact on diversity.

Using previous academic research from The University of Waterloo and Duke University which outlined a series of male and female gender-coded words, we analysed 76,929 job adverts over a six week period to assess the frequency of gender-coded words in UK recruitment.

Gender bias in UK job adverts

Within these 77.000 job adverts, we found 478,175 words which carry gender bias. This is an average of 6 male-coded or female-coded words per job advert.

Our research shows that while that many industries are making real strides towards greater inclusivity; gender-coded words are rife within UK job adverts, and are serving to unintentionally uphold gender-stereotypes.

Of course, the aim of our study is not to finger-point, but to enable employers to improve their diversity, and of course to receive more (and more relevant) applications for their vacancies.

With this in mind, we have launched the new Totaljobs Gender Bias Decoder, which we hope will help employers to check job descriptions for any unconscious bias.

The unseen impact of language choices

Academic research by The University of Waterloo and Duke University defined a series of words which socially, cultural and historically carry a stereotypical weight towards a particular gender.

Gendered words

The use of certain words to describe certain roles is often innate, which is the danger of stereotypes, as although employers and recruiters are not explicitly targeting male applicants, they are accidentally positioning their advert in a way to appeal to a specific gender.

Most commonly used male-gendered words in UK job descriptions:

  1. Lead (70,539 mentions)
  2. Analyse (35,339)
  3. Competitive (23,079)
  4. Active (20,041)
  5. Confident (13,841)

Most commonly used female-gendered words in UK job descriptions:

  1. Support (83,095)
  2. Responsible (64,909)
  3. Understanding (29,638)
  4. Dependable (16,979)
  5. Committed (13,129)

How does gender-bias impact across industries?

Worryingly, the difference between the industries where an unconscious gender-bias exists in job adverts is quite stark. The study shows that male-focussed industries include science, marketing and sales, while female-biased adverts are rife within administration, housekeeping and social care.

The splits of these industries are as such:

  • Social care (87% female bias)
  • Secretarial / Admin (67% female bias)
  • Cleaning (62% female bias)
  • Housekeeping (77% female bias)
  • Science (62% male bias)
  • Sales (51% male bias vs. 35% female bias)
  • Marketing (52% male bias vs. 33% female bias)

Double-glazing the glass ceiling

Most concerning, in regards to gender equality, is that the research shows that there is a distinct male-bias in adverts for senior positions, while supporting roles are worded with feminine coded words. Therein is a root cause of the gender pay gap, as female employees are discouraged from higher-level positions.

Senior level positions tend to be skewed towards male applicants:

  • Director (55% male bias v. 32% female bias)
  • Head (50% male bias v. 36% female bias)
  • Partner (52% male bias v. 34% female bias).

Compare this with job titles that include the phrase ‘assistant’ which carry a female-bias language (28% male bias v. 58% female bias).

Though women are of course, ambitious, analytical and confident, research indicates that they are hesitant to apply for roles which demand these traits in an applicant. And with adverts unintentionally worded in a way that female applicants, even at an unconscious level, feel that they are not eligible to apply, these occupations remain segregated and the problem persists. The impact on this on the glass ceiling and gender pay disparity is huge.

Tackling the problem

Besides hindering the plight of women in the workplace, and limiting diversity, unconscious gender bias in a job advert serves to limit the number of application that vacancy will receive. With many highly skilled candidates discouraged from applying, this is hugely counter-productive in a difficult recruitment landscape.

Similar research from ZipRecruiter in the US showed that gender neutral job adverts receive up to 42% more applications than their more biased counter-parts.

While they even suggest some alternative phrases (right) for some common offenders (left):

Male-biased phrasing

We’re looking for strong… We’re looking for exceptional…
Who thrive in a competitive atmosphere… Who are motivated by high goals…
Candidates who are assertive… Candidates who are go-getters…

Female Biased Phrasing

We are a community of concerned… We are a team focused on…
Have a polite and pleasant style… Are professional and courteous…
Nurture and connect with customers Provide great customer service

With diversity of increasing importance, we advise that with recruiters and employers take time to consider and check the language of their job ad, and any unconscious bias it may carry.

Is your job advert unwittingly discouraging applications from relevant candidates?

Try the new Totaljobs Gender Bias Decoder today

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