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‘Masculine language’ may deter women from applying for new jobs

The almost systematic use of masculine pronouns in job ads discourages female candidates from applying. (Envato Elements pic)

Writing a job announcement is not easy: it’s important to make it as attractive as possible so the most qualified individuals apply.

But according to a new study, the almost systematic use of the masculine gender in job ads discourages female candidates from applying.

Researchers at the University of Miami came to this conclusion after conducting an experiment with 172 women. They were asked to read several job ads and answer a questionnaire about their perception of the position described and the company seeking to fill it.

Some ads were written with masculine terminology (“he/him”), while others were more neutral or gender-inclusive (using terms like “he or she,” “him or her,” “employees”).

Their experiment shows that job offers using generic masculine terms do not encourage women to apply. Worse, they convey a poor image of both the vacancy and the hiring company.

The experts found that female participants who read ads using masculine language formed preconceptions about the working environment in which they would find themselves if they landed the job.

“For women, gender-exclusive language is perceived as sexist, which in turn predicts feelings of greater anticipated ostracism, and lower job-based motivation and identification,” the researchers wrote in their study published in the journal “PLOS One”.

Words carry weight

The volunteers didn’t have the same preconceptions about the job described in the advert when it was written in a more neutral way. They didn’t tell themselves that they wouldn’t be happy if they got the job, or that they’d be potentially isolated in the office.

In other words, they could better imagine themselves in the position.

“Job-seeking women would be more inclined to apply and anticipate being welcomed if a more gender-inclusive version of the company were provided,” Erika Rosenberger and Heather Claypool noted in their research.

The conclusions of this study must be qualified, however, as it has certain limitations, including a small panel of participants and the absence of ads using totally neutral pronouns. Nevertheless, they show just how important word choice is when writing a job ad.

Some recruiters are reluctant to use inclusive writing in their ads, fearing it could be confusing. This study suggests that if such offers aren’t written in a fully inclusive manner, recruiters should at least avoid using gender-exclusive language.