Worrying amount of gender bias in UK job ads

Worrying amount of gender bias in UK job ads

The largest study of UK job adverts has unearthed some worrying findings regarding gender bias, which could be having a significant impact on recruitment.

Totaljobs’ research found that UK job adverts are plagued with gender-biased language. After reviewing 76,000 adverts over a six-week period, the jobsite found that on average, every advert had six gender-coded words. 

Gendered terms, according to a study by The University of Waterloo and Duke University, are words which are associated with gender stereotypes.

The most commonly used male-biased words in UK job descriptions, according to totaljobs’ research were:

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

Conversely, the most commonly used female-biased words in UK job descriptions were identified as:

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

The highest number of female biased words used in job descriptions were for 'Residential Worker' (46 mentions) followed closely by 'Nursery Nurse' (44). In contrast, the job description that used the most male-coded words (67) was a ‘Senior Revenue Manager.’ Job titles that included the phrase 'assistant' also leaned more towards female-biased language – subtly reinforcing a split between the types of roles typically held by both genders.

“It is clear that gender stereotypes in relation to certain roles are so entrenched, the market needs to take action to address this,” David Clift, HR Director at totaljobs says. “Only by addressing the unconscious bias that still exists at the very start of a candidate search, can we move towards truly diverse workforces and make inroads in tacking major challenges like the Gender Pay Gap.”

This appeared to rise up the ranks, with job descriptions for senior positions more likely to have an unconscious male-bias. For example, job ads for roles such as 'Director' and ‘Partner’ showed a 22% skew towards using male-biased language.

  • Head – 1,013 jobs (50% male bias / 36% female bias)
  • Director – 582 jobs (55% male bias / 32% female bias)
  • Partner – 320 jobs (52% male bias / 34% female bias)
  • Chief – 45 jobs (64% male bias / 36% female bias) 

Certain industries were more inclined to biasing their search, for example, consulting (68%), sales (63%) and IT (52%) were most likely to have bias adverts for 'senior' roles with male-coded language. Social care is the sector most likely to use female-biased language.

Furthermore, despite a range of STEM initiatives designed to get more women into roles, the sector was the most likely to use male-coded language, with 62% of adverts using male-biased language, compared to just 28% that used female.

Clift adds: “Employers have taken great strides in driving greater opportunities for employees, but these findings showcase exactly how much further we have to go to promote diversity and equal opportunity across every sector of the UK economy.”

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Comments (1)

  • Josh
    Mon, 20 Nov 2017 2:30pm GMT
    Interesting, though it would be nice to see more about how male-based language and female-based language was determined. For example, how was 'lead' and 'analyse' determined to be male? What if the role is recruiting for a Data Manager - how can you avoid 'analyse' and 'lead' as words when these are central to the role? Is it possible that those words are considered masculine/feminine based on people's own gender stereotypes, rather than the bias informing language use? (i.e. The word 'lead' used in an ad is not biased towards one gender, and the recruiter isn't leaking bias by using that word, but the bias of the reader leads to those words being associated with a particular gender.)

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