Are certain job descriptions sneakily discouraging women from applying?
A Time Magazine report says the answer is more complicated than you’d think.
Catherine Conlan, Monster Contributing Writer
If your company is looking to fill a specific job, it’s important to include what employees can expect in the job description. But are the words you’re using discouraging women from applying?
In April, Time Magazine reported on a recent study from the Technische Universität München (TUM) that found women are less likely to apply to management jobs that sound like they’re meant for men. When researchers showed women job listings including words commonly associated with men, such as “assertive,” “independent,” “aggressive,” and “analytical,” the women said they were less likely to apply.
We reached out to some experts to get more information on job descriptions that may discourage women from applying to jobs where they would be more than welcome.
An emphasis on travel
It’s important to note that many employers don’t intentionally draft a job description that discourages women from applying, says Sharon DeLay of Boldly Go HR. “Most are genuinely trying to attract a talented, diverse workforce.” But even subtle things, such as a website or social media photo that shows only men in the position, or a job description that uses “he/him” as a generic pronoun, can be discouraging to women.
“All descriptions should be gender neutral unless there is a legitimate legal or religious reason to focus on only male candidates,” DeLay says.
One gender-neutral description that can discourage women from applying for a job is a travel requirement, DeLay says. Because women are frequently the primary caretakers in the family, they may not be interested in a position if they have to travel a lot.
“If a company is open to options for travel and overtime, it should make efforts to note this in order to attract more women and diverse candidates,” DeLay advises.
Exaggerated lifting requirements
Lifting requirements that are often part of job descriptions are easy to exaggerate and can be off-putting to women. “‘Must regularly lift 100 pounds’ would be a gross overstatement for a customer service rep on the phone,” says Hank Boyer of Boyer Management Group. “An appropriate statement might be ‘occasionally lifts 20 pounds.’”
“Typically descriptions excluding women from blue collar jobs will exaggerate aspects that might be off-putting to women, such as exaggerating the amount of lifting heavy objects or exaggerating the proximity of employees working together so it reads like the job is taking place in a locker room or the employees are basically on top of each other so it might be uncomfortable for the women,” says Adam Kielich, an attorney at the Kielich Law Firm.
Language that’s off putting to women
As the TUM study found, the words employers use in job descriptions can make a real difference in whether or not women apply.
“White collar positions, particularly certain sales roles, will talk about the need to be ‘aggressive’ and other competition-related language and macho verbiage that plays into the stereotypes of aggressive male salespeople and discourages women to want to join that environment,” says Kielich.
Coded language doesn’t even have to sound aggressive or macho to put people off, says Alaina Percival, head of developer outreach for Riviera Partners and CEO of Women Who Code.
“Hiring managers often use phrases in job listings without understanding the exact connotation of the words,” she says. “Flashy superlatives such as Rock Star, Code Ninja, Unicorn and Code Monkey are meant to be positive and upbeat, but they're actually not respected and can hurt your chances of acquiring talent. This is especially true of women who are often conditioned by society to avoid that kind of pomp and self-promotion.”
Another phrase to avoid is "We work hard and play hard," Percival says. “While at first glance it seems innocuous enough, a job applicant will often read that as saying that the company will expect them to work extended hours. It also implies that they will be required to spend their free time socializing with their colleagues.”