Mind your language


A survey by totaljobs explores how simple words and phrases are contributing to unconscious gender bias and impacting on diversity

Diversity, and particularly the gender pay gap, has been a topic of much debate this year. And now, a new piece of research from market leaders totaljobs, throws a new angle on it: that of the language we use, and that it can have a male and female bias.

Totaljobs have used previous academic research from The University of Waterloo and Duke University which outlined a series of male and female gender-coded words (words that socially, culturally and historically carry a stereotypical weight towards a particular gender – for a full list see their article below), and then analysed 76,929 job adverts over a six-week period to assess the frequency of gender-coded words.

What they found within the assessed job adverts, was that there were 478,175 words which carry gender bias. This is an average of 6 male-coded or female-coded words per job advert.

Out of the adverts they reviewed, the top male-gendered words found in UK job descriptions were revealed to be as follows: lead (70,539 mentions), analyse (35,339), competitive (23,079), active (20,041) and confident (13,841). For females the results were:  support (83,095), responsible (64,909), understanding (29,638), dependable (16,979) and committed (13,129).

Steve Warnham of totaljobs says in the blog, knowingly or not, these words are serving to uphold gender-stereotypes. As a result, they've have launched a totaljobs Gender Bias Decoder, which allows employers to sense-check job postings for male and female biased words.

The research also shows that there is an unconscious gender-bias of words by industry. Female bias is prevalent in industries such as social care (87%), secretarial / admin (67%), cleaning (62%) and housekeeping (77%). Whilst male-biased industries are disclosed as science (62%), sales (51% male bias vs. 35% female bias) and marketing (52% male bias vs. 33% female bias).

What’s more it reveals a male-bias in adverts for senior positions: director (55% male bias vs. 32% female bias), head (50% male bias vs. 36% female bias), partner (52% male bias vs. 34% female bias). And compare this with job titles that include the phrase ‘assistant’ which carry a female-bias language (28% male bias vs. 58% female bias).

Now, whilst we’re greeting this research with a whole lot of interest, there is an element of wanting to exercise caution.

Often the words that are used are part of the person spec. It’s part of who the employer is looking for. Are we really saying that we can’t write in a job advert that X client is looking for someone who is decisive, analytical and willing to challenge the norm, for fear of using supposed ‘male gender biased words’ that women will deselect themselves out of the process?

Hmmm. We think not. And what about words that are more pertinent to certain industries than others (e.g., support – a female-gendered classified word – will lend itself to social care). Should we avoid this at all costs? Even if we need people to demonstrate that they’re supportive to satisfy the role that’s advertised?

After all, what we don’t know from the totaljobs research is how many women and men applied to the jobs that carried the female / male gender biased words. And this would be the next step.

In short, gender-biased words are only part of the very complex male/female inequality puzzle. So perhaps the research is simply asking employers to use their words wisely. But please… let’s not assume that men can’t be trusting, understanding and supportive; nor that women can’t be objective, self-confident and ambitious – all because a list deems it so. For to do so, is to make an ass of us all.

To see the full article and list of words, click here.


Thursday, 16 November 2017

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Mark Anscomb Date: Nov 17, 2017

Let the debate begin. Looking forward to hearing the views from all those dependable, committed and supportive males and active, competitive and confident females

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Mind your language
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