New research, however, suggests fewer women even apply for management positions. Why? Part of the reason may be found in the way companies word their job postings.
A team of scientists from the Technische Universitat Munchen in Munchen, Germany recently found women feel less inclined to respond to employment ads containing words such as “determined” and “assertive,” because such words are “linked with male stereotypes,” according to the researchers.
In their study, the TUM team showed fictional employment advertisements to approximately 260 test subjects, in an effort to study how leaders are selected and assessed. If an ad described a large number of traits—assertive, independent, aggressive and analytical, for example—commonly associated with men, female participants found the ad less appealing and were less likely to apply, according to researchers, who note that women responded more positively to words such as “dedicated,” “responsible,” “conscientious” and “sociable.” Male test subjects, however, found a job advertisement’s phrasing to be of no consequence.
In addition, investigators found that women may be selling their on-the-job abilities short. In conjunction with researchers at New York University, TUM conducted a separate poll of approximately 600 Americans of both genders, in which respondents considered women and men to be equally competent, productive and efficient on a fundamental level. Both genders, however, rated men’s leadership skills more highly. Women also reported believing themselves and other women to be, on average, less capable in terms of leadership abilities than male respondents perceived themselves and other men.
Such findings seem to echo an all-too familiar refrain in our workplaces, with regard to gender equality: We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go.
Claudia Peus, chair of research and science management at TUM, and lead author of the study, suggests that employers can help close this gap by choosing their words carefully when crafting employment ads.
“A carefully formulated job posting is essential to get the best choice of personnel,” said Claudia Peus, in a statement. “In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to simply leave out all of the male-sounding phrases. But without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organizations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants. And that’s because the stereotypes endure almost unchanged, in spite of all the societal transformation we have experienced.”