Three in five UK job ads risk being sexist – “It’s time for employers to go back to the drawing board”

Most industries’ job adverts favour language that attract male jobseekers over women, according to research by Adzuna

Three in five UK job ads risk being sexist – “It’s time for employers to go back to the drawing board”

While many SME leaders pay lip service to the notion that they want to have a diverse workforce, most businesses still risk alienating female jobseekers in their ads. In fact, three out of every five positions advertised use language arguably excluding potential applicants. That’s according to new research from Adzuna, the job search engine.

The problem lies in the gender-coded language these ads use. A study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology argued using words such as ‘lead’ and ‘dominant’ in job adverts attract more male applicants. At the other end, words like ‘sensitive’ and ‘affectionate’ attract more female applicants. 

Inspired by this research, Adzuna used the 170 traditionally masculine and feminine words mentioned in the the study and searched for them in 1.2 million UK job ads from between 2014 and 2018. The researchers found that on average each job advert used 17% more masculine words than female with 60% favouring guys. 

The most gender-biased industries conform to traditional gender roles. The industries that are the most male-biased are consultancy, property and maintenance at 72%, 54% and 51% respectively. The industries with the most female-biased language in their ads are domestic help and cleaning at 60%, teaching at 38% and social work at 30%.

Fortunately, the researchers also found some reasons to feel optimistic. For instance, there has been some progress towards making things more gender neutral. The use of male-coded words in sales fell from 84% in 2014 to 50% in 2018. Furthermore, 78% of all job industries have started using more gender neutral language.

Still, this progress shouldn’t discourage business leaders from taking a closer look at their recruitment ads, according to Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna. “Unconscious bias may lead to accidental discrimination but there is no excuse in 2019,” he said. “It’s time for employers to go back to the drawing board and redesign their recruitment basics in order to keep up with the times. We’re already seeing movement being made towards gender equality when it comes to pay – why should attracting talent be any different?” 

While progress is certainly being made, it’s going slowly. With more awareness being made through research such as this, things might speed up and even subconsciously, employers will stop using gender coded language – hopefully leaving them spoiled for choice when it comes to applicants. 

Louisa Cook
Louisa Cook

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