Written by Liz Bradley and

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The wording used in job advertisements to describe roles, workplaces and candidate attributes could be dissuading a more gender-diverse range of applicants, according to research from LinkedIn.

The findings are set out in a new report, Language Matters, authored with input from Professor Rosie Campbell – Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London – and based on a global survey that included UK participants of over 1,000 employees and more than 250 hiring managers.

Amongst other trends, the data revealed that certain terms tend to be perceived differently by men and women. For example, over half of UK women (52%) would be put off applying for a job in a workplace described as ‘aggressive’, compared to just 32% of men. (The word was used in over 50,000 LinkedIn job descriptions at the time of the report.) Similarly, nearly a quarter of UK women (24%) said the phrase ‘born leader’ would put them off responding to a job advert, compared to just 17% of men.

Beyond the language barrier

Personal motivations for choosing a workplace are complex, with gender being just one lens that may colour how employers are perceived. A person’s education, personality type and cultural background are just a few factors that may also influence how attractive certain environments seem. However, the trends identified by the report are an important part of the picture.

Analysing language and opting for more open terminology could lead to tangible benefits if gender diversity is improved as a result – such as increased productivity. This is an area where the UK continues to struggle, with the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing a decline in employee output for the third consecutive quarter. The ONS suggests UK wages would be on average £5,000 a year higher if the productivity crisis were fixed.

At the same time, research from consultancies such as McKinsey & Company has consistently indicated that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are more likely to outperform their industry peers, and average employee productivity growth is higher for companies that employ three or more women at board level, compared to those that have just a single female director or none at all.

Anything that has the result of excluding a large percentage of the available talent pool ought to be addressed by HR professionals. Otherwise, there is a higher risk of bad hiring decisions and knock-on employment issues. Despite this, two out of five (40%) of the UK employers surveyed said that they never consider gender when writing job adverts.

If this is your organisation, it may be time for a rethink.

Contact Forbury People Ltd if you want advice on recruitment or gender bias training on contact@forburypeople.com

16th August 2019