The separation of job listings by sex was made illegal in 1968. But are companies effectively alienating female applicants in how they write employment advertisements?
According to a recent study, language matters when it comes to employee recruitment. Researchers at the Technische Universität München (Technical University of Munich) showed 260 participants job listings for higher level positions. Each listing contained words presumed to be typically male, like “assertive,” “independent,” “aggressive” and “analytical,” or typically female, like “dedicated,” “responsible,” “conscientious” and “sociable.” Women were less likely to apply for a position described with stereotypically "male" adjectives. Men, however, were not turned off by employment advertisements seeking applicants with more "feminine" qualities.
When pressure is put on companies to recruit and promote more women to management positions, employers often claim that women simply do not apply for such positions. These new findings highlight a need for companies to create recruitment materials that appeal to a broader set of motivations and strengths. But prioritizing women's mobility at the start of the pipeline won't ensure they don't get stuck on the way up.
If women are to comprise a larger share of management roles, it's not just hiring practices that must be addressed, but workplace culture. If an "assertive" or "aggressive" woman applies and is hired for a management position, how will her colleagues react to her once she occupies the corner office?
Characteristics like "aggression" and "determination" are not only associated with males, but often considered more palatable when displayed by male workers. What comes off as competence on men may be seen as shrill for women. As such, appeals for a masculine style of leadership in employment ads signal a workplace culture that might not welcome women leaders. To presume that these terms simply intimidate women out of applying for jobs they don't think they'll get is to ignore a workplace culture that isn't totally on board with strong -- dare we say "bossy" -- women.
To hope for a culture where women can wield traditionally "masculine" management tactics more agreeably might not be the best approach, however. Women leaders are found to be more ethical, resilient, honest, energetic -- and most importantly, more effective.
When we're talking about moving more women up the corporate ladder, employment ads are a great place to start. But women who do not apply to companies where "aggression" is preferable do not necessarily suffer a lack of confidence, they're just smart enough to question how they'll be treated there. As we ask companies to use language that appeals to women's motivations to lead, we have to make sure they deliver on their promise to recognize and encourage more diverse leadership styles.