In the realm of human resources, an industry traditionally associated with women, a concerning trend has emerged: a failure to foster gender inclusivity in job advertisements, particularly for senior leadership positions.

A recent study conducted jointly by Nottingham Business School, a part of Nottingham Trent University, and Newcastle University Business School sheds light on this issue, revealing the prevalence of masculine language and the absence of statements promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), as well as flexible working arrangements.

The research scrutinised over 150 job adverts for HR roles, analysing the presence of agentic traits—typically associated with masculine characteristics, emphasising competitiveness and individual achievement—and communal behaviours, which are more aligned with feminine traits, emphasising collaboration and nurturing.

The findings uncovered a troubling pattern: as the seniority of the position increased, so did the prevalence of masculine language in the job adverts, such as “leadership,” “deliver,” and “decision.”

Feminine language

Conversely, entry-level and junior roles, historically occupied by women within HR departments, exhibited a broader spectrum of feminine language, including terms like “support,” “responsibility,” and “trusted.” This disparity suggests a shift away from the supportive ethos of the profession towards a more business-oriented and patriarchal leadership style, potentially impeding women’s advancement to senior positions.

Even when senior-level job adverts attempted to use neutral or feminine language, they often lacked substantive mentions of factors that would attract female applicants, such as explicit EDI commitments or endorsements of work-life balance. This omission implies an underlying preference for candidates who embody stereotypically male traits and may reinforce existing gender biases, dissuading women from pursuing senior roles.

Dr. Maranda Ridgway, Associate Professor of People and Inclusion at Nottingham Business School, lamented this discrepancy, emphasising that while HR is expected to champion equality and well-being practices, senior-level job adverts often treat these commitments as mere formalities rather than reflections of organisational culture. She called for urgent reforms, advocating for job adverts to undergo careful scrutiny to mitigate hidden gender biases and for the integration of robust statements promoting equal opportunities and flexible working arrangements.

Salary transparency is key

The study also highlighted shortcomings in the representation of salary information, with 8 percent of the analysed adverts failing to disclose salary details. Given evidence suggesting that the absence of explicit salary statements leads to women accepting lower wages, the researchers recommended the inclusion of specific wage details in all job adverts to promote transparency and equity.

The publication of the study, titled “Leading by Example? Gendered Language in Human Resource Job Adverts,” in the Human Resource Management Journal underscores the urgency of addressing gender biases in HR recruitment practices. To achieve genuine progress towards gender inclusivity and diversity in leadership, concerted efforts must be made to reform job advertising practices and promote a culture of equity and inclusion within the HR profession.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.