Openreach | Firm hopes to attract more female candidates with 'language review'

Firm hopes to attract more female candidates with 'language review'

Telecommunications company Openreach is set to shine a light on bias language used in job adverts, after the firm discovered that gender biased language discourages as many as one in two female candidates from applying.

In a release published by the company, Openreach shared that it hopes its new linguistic approach will help it meet a commitment to recruit a minimum of 20% female candidates into new positions in 2021.

Openreach’s study found that women are 50% less likely to consider roles that have a coded gender bias. However, when presented with a gender-inclusive advert, female applicants’ interest in the position spiked by more than 200%, with 60% sharing that this was due to the manner in which it was written.

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To tackle this, the firm launched a new consciously unbiased job description for its entry-level engineering role, with the language carefully selected in order to appeal to a female audience.

Following this, Openreach identified three key areas for improvement including:

  1. Latent gendered phraseology

  2. Active vs passive construction i.e either a more masculine or feminine skew in the language used and

  3. Key skillset descriptors.

To gauge what the impact the language shift would have on respondents, Openreach tested the new advert against the original with 2,000 women in the UK. A third of those surveyed stated that the felt the original advert was more suited towards men than a woman.

Elsewhere, while 80% of women said they wouldn’t consider working in engineering, more than half revealed they were interested in the engineering job once it had been reimagined and the word ‘engineer’ had been removed.

Speaking on the advert change, Dr Chris Begeny, Research Fellow in Gender and Organisational Psychology at the University of Exeter, said: “The findings are extremely exciting as they demonstrated such a clear discrepancy between the two adverts and suggest that the latent barriers to application remain, illustrating how gender-inclusive ads could be vital to bringing more women into a range of sectors similarly viewed.”

The research also went on to discover that the relevant skills needed also impacted a jobseeker’s decision to apply. In fact, 75% felt they needed to fit the skills profile of a job specification by 70% or more.

‘It is telling that the most common barrier to applying for a job, in general, was the belief that they didn’t have the right skillset,” Dr Begeny continued. “Women were far more likely to recognise that they had the relevant skills to pursue this job when it was described using gender-inclusive language – again illustrating how subtle shifts in language can drastically change perceptions of women’s fit and suitability for traditionally male-dominated roles.”

A ’catalyst’ for change

Looking over the findings, Kevin Brady, HR Director at Openreach, shared that he was ‘amazed’, adding that he hoped these discoveries would work as a ‘catalyst’ to transform language in adverts in the future.

Brady concluded: “We were amazed to see just how much of a difference language makes and have started the process of assessing and changing all relevant language to help overcome the challenges of diversity recruitment. We hope that this will be the catalyst for helping to break down barriers stopping women from considering a role in engineering.”

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