Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality
Job advertisements that use masculine wording are less appealing to women.
Women continue to remain underrepresented in male-dominated fields such as engineering, the natural sciences, and business. Research has identified a range of individual factors such as beliefs and stereotypes that affect these disparities but less is documented around institutional factors that perpetuate gender inequalities within the social structure itself (e.g., public policy or law). These institutional factors can also influence people’s perceptions and attitudes towards women in these fields, as well as other individual factors.
Here, the authors propose that one institutional mechanism that might contribute to fewer women in traditionally male-dominated job is gendered wording used in job recruitment materials. Since 1973, job advertisements are no longer allowed to advertise specifically for men or women or use pronouns such as he or she. However, gender preferences can still be conveyed with more subtle cues such as traits and stereotypes typically associated with certain genders. For example, words such as competitive, dominant or leader are associated with male stereotypes, while words such as support, understand and interpersonal are associated with female stereotypes. Including gendered words in job advertisements could make the position seem less appealing to a certain gender, thereby limiting the applicant pool for these jobs.
Using two archival analyses and three experiments, the study examines whether gendered wording commonly employed in job recruitment materials helps maintain gender inequality in traditionally male-dominated occupations by affecting individuals perceptions of those occupations (e.g., how appealing they find the position).
Women were less likely to believe they belonged in a particular job when the advertisement used masculine wording, and they rated masculine jobs as less appealing:
- Job ads for male-dominated occupations used greater masculine wording (words associated with male stereotypes) than advertisements for female-dominated occupations among professionals (97% vs.70%) and college students (1.12% vs. 0.91%).
- There was no significant difference in the presence of feminine wording (words associated with female stereotypes) across male- or female-dominated occupations among professionals (57% vs. 67%) or students (0.67% vs. 0.65%).
Identical job ads that used more masculine than feminine wording affected perceptions of gender diversity, job appeal, and anticipated belongingness but not of personal ability.
- Job ads using more masculine wording were perceived by both men and women to have fewer women in the occupation than the same ad using more feminine wording (43% vs. 49%), regardless of whether they were male- or female-dominated occupations.
- Job ads using more masculine wording were perceived by women to be less appealing than the same ads using more feminine wording (4.16 vs. 4.50 on a 6-point scale), regardless of whether they were male- or female-dominated occupations.
- Job ads using masculine wording were perceived by men to be more appealing than the same ads using feminine wording (4.61 vs. 4.22), showing the opposite pattern to female participants, but it was not significantly different.
- Job ads using more masculine wording led women to have a lower sense that they would belong in the position or company than the same ads using more feminine wording (3.98 vs. 4.31 on a 7-point scale). However, men showed no difference in anticipated belonging based on either masculine or feminine wording.
- Even though gendered language in job ads affected women’s perceptions of job appeal and anticipated belonging, it did not affect women’s perceived level of personal skill required for the job (4.89 vs. 4.99 for masculine vs. feminine wording).
- Gendered wording of job advertisements signals who belongs and who does not. Masculine- worded ads reduced perceived belongingness, which in turn lead to less job appeal, regardless of one’s perception of their personal skill to perform that job.
In short, advertisements for stereotypically male jobs had more masculine wording, which led women to 1) think more men worked there, 2) believe they would not belong in that position, and 3) find the job less appealing. However, this wording did not affect their assessment of their abilities to do the job. These differences due to subtle language differences in how jobs are advertised may help explain the on-going gender gap in historically male-dominated fields.
In Study 1, 493 online job advertisements were randomly selected from monster.ca and workopolis.com across 11 occupations identified as highly male- or female-dominated (e.g., plumber, security guard vs. registered nurse, bookkeeper) based on U.S. labor statistics (231 ads for male-dominated, 262 ads for female-dominated). These were then coded for masculine and feminine words using published lists of agentic and communal words (e.g., individualistic, competitive vs. committed, supportive) and masculine and feminine trait words (e.g., ambitious, assertive vs. compassionate, understanding).
In Study 2, 3,640 job advertisements for university students were randomly selected from the on-campus co-operative job-posting site at the University of Waterloo, with 3,116 targeting male-dominated fields (e.g., engineering, math) and 524 targeting female-dominated fields (e.g., applied health studies, arts). As in Study 1, these were coded for masculine and feminine words.
In Study 3, 43 Canadian-born introductory psychology students (28 women) read a series of six job advertisements online, two from each job type (male-dominated, female-dominated, neutral). Within each job type, one was masculine worded and one was feminine worded, and these were manipulated to vary between participants. Participants then reported their perception of gender diversity for each job (2 items).
In Study 4, 96 English-fluent introductory psychology students (63 women) read the same job advertisements online from Study 3. Participants then assessed the job appeal (6 items) and anticipated belongingness (4 items), and ranked them from most appealing to least appealing.
In Study 5, 118 female Canadian-born introductory psychology students read one of the two job advertisements for real estate agents (one masculine worded, one feminine worded). Participants then reported their perceptions of their personal skills for the job (3 items), the same gender diversity questions from Study 3, and the same job appeal and belongingness questions from Study 4.