While it’s long been enshrined in law that businesses can’t discriminate by gender in the workplace or in the hiring process, conscious and unconscious biases around careers and the people who work them do unfortunately remain.
Be it nurses to doctors, or CEOs to executive assistants, past studies have shown that unconscious gender bias in careers is still prevalent - and even affects children’s perceptions of the world around them.
And although perceptions are shifting – gender-neutral terms such as ‘firefighter’ are increasingly preferred to their gendered alternatives – we wanted to know the extent that the UK jobs market is affected by gender bias, and how employers can work to ensure their job postings aren’t inadvertently excluding would-be applicants.
Studies have shown that gender-coded language may affect how appealing job adverts can be to candidates of the opposite gender and how each candidate feels they ‘belong’ in that occupation.
It’s worth noting that, according to the study, this seemingly affects women more than men – when faced with strongly masculine-coded job adverts, women were more likely to feel like they ‘didn’t belong’ in that role, while in the opposite scenario this only slightly affected how appealing male candidates found the role.
Sourcing job postings via Adzuna, a smarter job search engine, we ran these through a gender decoder tool to determine if the language used was masculine- or feminine-coded, and therefore likely to attract a particular gender into applying for the role.
We also surveyed 2,000 UK workers to find their perceptions of their workplace when it comes to gender equality.
How gender-neutral are UK job postings?
We began our analysis by selecting job adverts from five of the top 10 companies in the FTSE 100, taking a random sample of up to 20 job adverts per company. All jobs had been listed within the past 12 months and were taken across a variety of roles at different levels of seniority.
We ran these job adverts through a gender decoder tool that reveals instances of masculine-coded and feminine-coded language being used.
Gender-coded language refers to words or phrases that are typically associated with a particular gender and often rooted in male/female stereotypes. Examples of language that would be marked as feminine-coded include, but are not limited to:
While examples of language that would be marked as masculine-coded includes, but is also not limited to:
Our findings in this area were stark. Of 91 job adverts analysed, just four of them were rated as gender neutral.
70 of the job adverts analysed – or 77% - were found to favour feminine-coded language. Of these, 54 were found to be strongly skewed towards feminine-coded language.
Just 17 job adverts were found to be masculine-coded. Eight of these were strongly masculine-coded, but overall job adverts appear to skew towards female-orientated language.
How do UK employees perceive equality in their workplace?
Our survey of UK employees found that over half believe their workplace has equality of gender when it comes to staff and company culture. It’s more common that people believe their workplace to be male-orientated (16% of UK employees) than female orientated (9%).
One in six women (17%) believe their workplace is male-orientated, compared to one in seven men (14%).
70% of employees in the accountancy, banking, and finance sectors believe their workplace is gender equal, which was the highest of all industries surveyed.
|Industries with the highest % of workers who believe their workplace approach to staff and culture is gender neutral
|Accountancy, banking, and finance
|Leisure, sport and tourism
|Public services and administration
|Media and internet
|Energy and utilities
|Charity and voluntary work
|Teacher training and education
|Hospitality and events management
Which sectors have the most gender bias in job adverts?
While the majority of job postings analysed were revealed to be feminine-coded, the industry with the highest number of advertised roles featuring feminine-coded language was IT & Engineering, with 14 jobs (83% of roles in the sector) predominantly using female-associated words.
This is despite 59% of IT employees believing their workplace to be gender-neutral. And while 83% of jobs advertised in the sector have a female bias in the language used, almost one in four (23%) employees in the sector identified a male-orientated approach to staff and workplace culture.
Inversely, 59% of employees in teacher training and education roles believe their workplace approach to staff and culture is gender neutral, but analysis of job postings in teaching revealed that each job advert decoded used feminine-orientated language. Not one teaching position analysed was rated gender neutral or masculine-coded.
The number of employees who identify gender bias in their workplace is often a stark contrast to the language used in job adverts. This is most illustrated in accountancy, banking, and finance. Where 68% of job postings in banking and finance were found to use feminine-coded language, just 7% of employees in the sector believe their workplace approach to staff and culture is female-orientated.
How to avoid gender bias in job adverts
The language and phrasing used in job adverts is often the first impression a job-seeker will get of the culture and workplace dynamic of your business, and while gender bias can largely be unconscious and unintended, it’s important to pay attention to potential uses of gendered terms and gender-coded language so as to not exclude would-be applicants.
To get insight on how employers can assess and reduce the use of gender-coded language in their recruitment process, we sought insight from Mandy Watson, Managing Director of recruitment experts Ambitions Personnel:
“The use of gendered language in job adverts is one of the key factors that needs to be addressed when removing bias from onboarding procedures.
“We all know it's direct discrimination and illegal to advertise a job looking exclusively for male or female candidates – but the use of gendered language, which can be subtle and happen unconsciously, is still rife. And worryingly, this is still happening in historically male-dominated industries such as STEM, which could unwillingly detract from the efforts being made to encourage more females into this sector.
“The benefits of having a diverse workforce are vast. In the current climate, employers should be doing everything they can to encourage applications from across the talent pool.
“We recommend employers use some of the free gender decoder tools available online and review adverts before posting. These tools score job adverts, checking the pronouns you use to ensure no bias. Avoid using terms like 'work hard / play hard, which might imply a company culture of after-work drinks, which can deter those who are parents and, in turn, women. Review and differentiate between the essentials and the desirables – research has shown men are more likely to apply for roles where they meet less of the criteria, as opposed to women. Writing a long 'must-have list' might not serve.”
With such a small amount (4%) of job postings at some of the UK’s top employers being gender-neutral, it’s likely that some applicants are inadvertently being discouraged from making an application to a large number of roles due to subtle and unintended gender bias within the job posting itself.
Sources and Methodology
- Survey of 2,000 UK workers currently in employment correct as of 7.11.2022
- Tool used: https://gender-decoder.katmatfield.com/
- We began our analysis by selecting adverts for five of the top 10 companies in the FTSE 100 (picked on 24.10.2022 at 11am) that were available to us (via Adzuna, a smarter job search engine)
- Next, selected a random sample (20 per company / as many as were available to us) of job adverts that had been listed with Adzuna across the past 12 months for various roles at different levels.
- We then ran these sample job adverts through a gender decoder tool to determine if the language featured in them is more male or female coded and is therefore more likely to resonate with and attract male or female candidates. Due to the tool being based on a study that didn’t take into consideration non binary individuals, data for this category hasn’t been recorded.