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How many of the listed criteria in a job vacancy do you feel you need to meet in order to apply for a job? In 2014 a statistic answering this question with gender-segregated data started to spread like wildfire. The statistic, based on internal research at Hewlett Packard (HP), found that whilst women only apply for jobs when they think they meet 100% of the criteria, men apply when they meet about 60% of them. Is the gender gap really that big?

A recent LinkedIn study analysed billions of interactions between professionals, companies, and recruiters. More precisely, they looked at how open women and men are to new opportunities, how they browse and apply to jobs, how they interact with recruiters, and how likely they are to get hired after applying. The research found that women apply for 20% fewer jobs than men. However, women are more likely to get hired. In short, men compete more but win less. 

It is still unclear exactly why that is, but there are some safe bets to put your money on. First, women tend to be more risk-averse. They are worried they set themselves up to fail if they don’t fulfil the vast majority of criteria. Secondly, women are to a greater extent than men socialised into following the rules. When explaining why they didn’t apply for a given position, they more often mention they were sticking to given guidelines. Lastly, many roles, and especially senior roles, tend to convey messages associated with masculine cultures or traits in job advertisements.

In 2019, job bank Adzuna found that 60% of all industries in the UK exhibited significant male bias and that, on average, UK job ads used 17% more masculine-associated language than feminine language. Want to check this yourself? Try the Gender Bias Decoder. This is a tool that checks for gendered language in job vacancies. It highlights masculine (e.g. aggression) and feminine words (e.g compassion) in different colours, giving you an idea of the bias in the vacancy. However, it is also important to note that this is a simplification of how we read gendered language. Not only individual words but phrases and contexts contribute to whether we perceive language to be masculine or feminine. 

Paying attention to the language in vacancies can help you as a recruiter or employer to find the best candidates. It also helps you as a job-seeker to reflect on why you feel qualified or unqualified for a position. In general, the most important take-away from this entry is that when formulating a job vacancy, one should stress what the company/organisation are looking for in a person, not in a woman or man. 

Counterintuitive to this are the recent attempts by businesses and organisations to be inclusive by adding “(m/f),” “(m/f/d)” or “(m/f/i/t)” to their vacancies. Rather than allowing for the spectrum of gender identities we hold and the people we are, these labels reinforce gender essentialist thinking. That is, the belief that biological sex is the primary factor in determining how we perform gender. Instead, we suggest you use your words! Stress in a new paragraph that the employer is an equal opportunity employer which does not discriminate based on gender, race, colour, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, ability or marital status. And if you aren’t an equal opportunity employer? Well, then you better get to work.