60% of UK industries are sexist towards female applicants

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Wording in UK job applications tends to favour males according to a new study.

New data from has revealed the level of gender-bias throughout the UK’s job market and its industries through gender-coded language present in job adverts.

According to a study by Gaucher, Friesen and Kay*, gendered wording in job adverts has the effect of steering applicants to apply according to their sex. Male-coded words such as ‘lead’ and ‘dominant’ encourage a higher number of male applicants to female applicants, whereas female-coded words such as ‘sensitive’ and ‘affectionate’ attract more female talent.

Adzuna searched for a selection of 170 traditionally masculine and feminine words cited in the study within 1.2million job adverts every year from 2014 to 2018. It discovered that each job advert in the UK uses on average 17 per cent more male than female-biased words. This bias is widespread across multiple sectors, with 60 per cent of all UK industries exhibiting significant male-bias within their job ads.

UK’s most biased industries

Consultancy, property, sales, maintenance and travel industries proved to be the most actively discouraging towards female applicants. Each of those industries using 50 per cent or more male than female-biased words in their job ads. While the sales industry has seen some progress, falling from 84 per cent (2014) to 50 per cent (2018), job ads within consultancy, property, maintenance and travel industries have seen an increase in the use of male-coded words. These industries now use 72 per cent, 54 per cent, 51 per cent and 46 per cent respectively more male than female-biased language.

On the contrary, the industries with the most female-biased language in job adverts in 2018 are domestic help and cleaning (60 per cent), teaching (38 per cent), social work (30 per cent), charity and voluntary (27 per cent) and healthcare and nursing (12 per cent).

UK’s most neutral industries

The administration industry hasn’t varied more than 8 per cent (2014) away from gendered wording over the past 5 years. In 2015, job ads in the admin industry were completely gender free. However, the most neutral industry in 2018 was retail, which used 5 per cent more female-coded words than male-coded words. This is a quick turnaround, as in 2015, the retail industry was using 50 per cent more male than female-coded words.

Time has encouraged progress

Since 2014, job ads in the UK have seen the usage of masculine-coded words drop by 10 per cent, from 27 per cent to 17 per cent more male-to-female words. The decline has been consistent since 2015, with it falling by 13 per cent in the last four years.

This trend is echoed across all job industries within the UK, with 78 per cent moving towards neutral wording over the last five years, and only 19 per cent of industries in the UK becoming more male-biased in their wording.

Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna, commented:

“With studies showing the use of such ‘masculine’ words in job ads directly discourage female applicants and our data revealing 60 per cent of job ads are sexist towards women by using male-biased language, UK industries need to be more conscious about language during their recruitment process.

Gendered wording in job adverts can have the effect of supporting the gender imbalance within industries that are already perceived as being male-dominated. While it is encouraging to see a general trend towards neutral language over the past few years, several industries need to make more of an active effort to combat gender-bias within their ads in order to subliminally encourage female talent.

Unconscious bias may lead to accidental discrimination, but there is no excuse in 2019. It’s time for employers to go back to the drawing board and redesign their recruitment basics in order to keep up with the times. We’re already seeing movement being made towards gender equality when it comes to pay. Why should attracting talent be any different?”

*2011 American Psychological Association study ‘Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality’.

The infographic below breaks down the extent of gender bias that Adzuna found in the past five years’ worth of job adverts across the UK’s biggest industries: