A new analysis of 5,000 job adverts indicates a prevalent problem with over half displaying “gendered wording” targeted towards male applicants. 

Research by Michael Page, a specialist recruitment company, reveals a systematic bias found within job adverts.

Over half of the adverts (52 per cent) investigated were found to be phrased with gendered wording which made them unconsciously biased towards men.

Analysing this issue alongside social psychologists who drew from academic social science literature linked to gender stereotyping, the study found a consistent presence of phrases with “masculine connotations” including the words “leading” and “analytical” which were seen in 85 per cent of adverts.

Conversely, the most common feminine phrases identified included the word “support”, “understanding” and “depend”, appealing to emotional qualities rather than technical skills or leadership.

This could be particularly damaging when assessing the impact that COVID-19 has already had on job opportunities for women.

Recent research from LinkedIn revealed that women have experienced a lower rate of hiring and a higher rate of being furloughed in comparison to men. This is further complicated by the fact that women often take on caring responsibilities which forces many to leave the workforce, either part-time or fully.

However, different sectors were shown to use gender-based coded language at varying rates. Industries such as media and marketing, financial services and technology had the largest disparity between masculine and feminine language within job adverts, showing key talent could be dissuaded from applying.

Conversely, sectors which are heavily involved with issues of diversity and inclusion such as HR, had a closer parity between the number of masculine and feminine phrases used in their adverts.

Overall, only 16 per cent of the job adverts studied comprised an even balance of feminine and masculine gendered words.

Sheri Hughes, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Michael Page, said:

The process of being more inclusive involves both listening and reacting to important developments, such as the findings our research has uncovered today. It’s accepted that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with many struggling to get back to work after being made redundant. 

Our findings highlight there is still significant work needed to break many of the conscious, as well as unconscious, institutional barriers which prevent women from achieving equality in the workplace.

We’re urging companies across all industries to take these findings seriously and to join us in committing to raising awareness of gender bias within job adverts and encourage other recruitment firms to join the fight for a fairer job market for all.

The more inclusive the language the better the attraction for candidates across all under-represented groups. This will be beneficial to businesses in the long term, as they maximise the chances of finding the right talent for the roles they have on offer.

*The study was carried out by randomly selecting 5,000 job adverts from five leading UK recruitment firms. The job adverts, which were live between February and March 2020, spanned across ten different employment sectors.

The adverts were then examined using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software (LIWC) which coded them for the presence of pre-established gendered wording which had been identified through gendered stereotyping literature reviews. 





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.