Gendered LanguageNudgingStatistics

Gender + Words

By October 25, 2020 October 26th, 2022 No Comments
gender balanced workforce

When we think of balancing the scales of gender inequality in the workplace, we often overlook how the power of words in job ads can turn away the very gender we are looking to attract. In historically male-dominated professions and vice versa.

If we think of a job with a company is like a potentially successful and high-grossing movie franchise with all of the usual highs and lows, twists, and turns, then in many ways a job advertisement may well be considered the opening scene. Some stay until the very end to watch the credits (retirement maybe?), while others simply walk away before they’ve even had a chance to meet the main characters. (That could be you or their future hiring manager!)

According to research published by the American Psychological Association, the words we use in job advertisements may just be turning away that potential high-performing talent, and in doing so, perpetuating gender inequality. A study conducted by Cecchi-Dimelgio (2017) also found that language and shorter lists of requirements resulted in 11% more female applicants.

So before you embark on your next recruit, consider the language that is used in your workplace to describe the culture, the way in which work is carried out, the words used to describe the ideal employee, and even the company itself. This may reveal some historical norms which may no longer be relevant or true but will also provide an opportunity to better understand the origins of certain language and why it still remains.


Here are our 3 simple tips on using words effectively for gender balance


  1. Use language in job advertisements that will attract and create a perception of belongingness. From job titles to all the typical descriptors used for the role, the company, and the person. You may also like to take a look at textio, tapRecruit or gender-decoder to check your use of gendered language.
  2. Make your list of required skills shorter. According to HBR, women are known to apply only when they are 100% qualified for the job. Yes, it may be an issue of confidence but one you may never get the chance to address particularly if your list of must-haves and desirables are someone’s IDEAL perfect candidate (you know the unicorn we mean!)
  3. Check your job descriptions and goal setting material for language that may put off your recent recruits. Consistency in the language is key.

See the Words of Attraction above for some inspiration on the language that was found in the research referred to earlier by Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Kay, called Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, July 2011, Vol 101(1), p109-28).

We’ve also included some words below that you may need to watch! It’s not that these words shouldn’t be used, but be aware that some words will evoke different emotional responses depending on the reader.

Contact our expert team if you need support in bringing your diversity and inclusion strategy to action.


Download our Tipsheet – Gender + Words

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If you are looking to improve diversity and inclusion in your organisation visit our blog for some useful information and resources.