Date updated:

A recent small study has warned that gender biased language in job adverts may be inadvertently deterring candidates from applying for roles. Gender biased language in policies, procedures and communications may also have unintended consequences, reinforcing gender norms and negatively impacting inclusion practice.

A recent small study has found that only a small number of 230 job advertisements posted by FTSE 100 companies used fully gender-neutral wording. The study concluded that adverts with ‘feminine’ language were for roles in administration, retail, customer service and finance. The advertisements with ‘masculine’ language were mainly for roles in science, product development, sponsorship, marketing, technology and data. 

All forms of job advertisement are covered by the Equality Act 2010. Employers must not discriminate through the content of the job advertisement. Adverts that suggest the employer will apply discriminatory criteria when recruiting may give rise to two types of legal action, an employment tribunal claim by an unsuccessful applicant or a person who was deterred from applying by the discriminatory advert or County Court action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for a declaration or an injunction even if no actual "victim" can be identified.

Whilst using gender biased language in a job advertisement is unlikely to be discriminatory in itself, it may be off-putting for candidates as they may consider that they do not have the necessary skills or attributes for the role. An internal report by Hewlett Packard stated that men will apply for a job when they meet 60% of the requirements but women will only apply if they meet 100% of them. Using gender biased language and including requirements that are not strictly necessary for the role may result in a narrow range of applicants.

Our tips to help you attract and recruit talent from a diverse pool:

  • Review your job adverts to check there are no gender-coded words.
  • Draw up a detailed job description and person specification focussing on what skills and experience are required.
  • Avoid industry lingo or acronyms.
  • Use gender neutral pronouns.
  • Only include requirements that are actually necessary for the role.
  • Avoid using words that suggest that the employer may directly or indirectly discriminate.
  • State whether the organisation offers flexible / hybrid wording.
  • Let potential applicants know if the organisation is committed to diversity and inclusion.

Employers should also be conscious of the impact of gender biased language in policies, procedures and communications. Ensuring all staff can thrive in the workplace is key to the success of an organisation. Gender biased communications, even if inadvertent, can make staff feel isolated or excluded. In more extreme circumstances, gender biased language can inadvertently perpetuate unwanted norms and biases which could negatively impact workplace culture and inclusion.

We recommend employers factor the impact of language into their policy reviews and communications to ensure they achieve the tone and balance they are aiming for. One effective check and balance is a second pair of eyes.

For further guidance on employment issues related to recruitment and inclusion please contact Stone King’s Employment Law Team or your usual contact at Stone King who will allocate your query.