• Research finds that women do not apply for 'male sounding' jobs

  • 4 Apr 2014
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Words related to stereotypical male traits rob employers of good female candidates, says expert

Academic research has revealed that “male sounding” job descriptions that use words associated with male stereotypes deter women from applying.

The study, by researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany, found that potential female candidates for leadership vacancies were less likely to respond to adverts that used words like “determined” and “assertive” because these words are linked with male stereotypes.

This finding has particular implications for why so few women hold senior leadership roles.

To assess the impact of words on application behaviour, more than 260 people were shown fictional employment ads. These included a training programme place for potential management positions. The results showed that if the advertisement described a large number of traits associated with men, the women found it less appealing and were less inclined to apply. Such words include “assertive”, “independent”, “aggressive” and “analytical”.

But female test subjects found words like “dedicated”, “responsible”, “conscientious” and “sociable” more appealing. However, for male test subjects the wording of the advertisement made no difference.

“A carefully-formulated job posting is essential to get the best choice of personnel,” explained Professor Claudia Peus, from the Chair of Research and Science Management at TUM, who led the study. “In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to simply leave out all of the male-sounding phrases. But without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organisations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants. And that’s because the stereotypes endure almost unchanged in spite of all of the societal transformation we have experienced.”

In conjunction with a research team from New York University, the TUM team found further evidence that traditional perceptions of the sexes do apply, particularly in respect to leaders. In a survey of about 600 US-Americans of both genders, respondents considered women and men to be equally competent, productive and efficient on a fundamental level. However, they rated men’s leadership skills more highly. The findings also showed that women believed themselves and other women to be less capable leaders. But men did not suffer from this lack of self-belief.

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Comments (3)
  • I find it quite interesting that, 'for male test subjects the wording of the advertisement made no difference'.

  • I understand from previous studies that there are also gender issues with regard to perceived capability to undertake the role advertised. A women will look at a job advert/job description and if she cannot do 25% will not apply. If a man sees the same advert and he believes he can do 25% of the role he will apply

  • I am inclined to wonder how they controlled for language variations, any ideas?