Overwhelming majority of job adverts at top UK firms use gender-biased language, research finds

Survey reveals that job adverts for HR are most likely to be feminine coded, alongside teaching and admin

Credit: zorani/AlpamayoPhoto/Getty Images

The majority (96 per cent) of job adverts at FTSE 100 companies use gender-biased language despite over half (56 per cent) of employees believing their company has a gender-neutral approach to staffing, new research has found.

The Instaprint study, which surveyed 2,000 UK workers and analysed vacancy data from Adzuna, found that most jobs (70 per cent) were written in feminine-coded language, with just a fifth (19 per cent) geared towards men.

The data also found it was more common for individuals to believe their workplace is male-oriented (16 per cent) than female-oriented (9 per cent).

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With just 4 per cent of advertised roles found to be using gender-neutral language, Paul Modley, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Alexander Mann Solutions, said that in a tight talent market, firms could be precluding themselves from building a diverse workforce as “the language used in any communications has an impact on how individuals engage.”

“There’s certainly more incentive to provide more neutral messages when competition for the best talent is rife,” said Modley, adding that it should realistically be a “natural part of every talent acquisition strategy, rather than an afterthought when hiring gets tough”. 

Additionally, the survey found job adverts for teachers were the most likely to be “feminine coded”, followed by adverts for HR or administrative work.

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Terry Payne, global managing director at recruitment firm Aspire, explained that gender-coding of adverts could also hint at broader issues in the talent acquisition process: “The concerning thing about this data is that if employers are demonstrating bias in adverts, what does their selection process look like? How are they avoiding bias there?”

But, he added, this can easily be fixed by training staff how to better write adverts and by investing in bias-analysis technology.

Similarly, Modley added that companies need to be aware of unconscious bias when adverts are written, ensuring that they are created in a diverse and neutral manner, and understanding that bias is not a problem that only exists along gender lines.

“The issue is relevant for a range of demographics: Gen Z will respond differently to messages aimed at Millennials. 

“What this data really highlights is that what is communicated is equally as important as how it’s communicated. In an ideal scenario, tailored approaches to messages would be used that speak directly to the individual,” he said.