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Why Women Might be put off Applying for Your Job


The words you use in your job adverts hold a lot of importance. Keyword optimised ads are imperative for attracting the best candidates and having a great job description can mean the difference between an inbox full of applications and fighting for that third page listing on Google. But have you ever considered that some of the words you’re using might actually be putting certain demographics off applying for your roles? Research suggests unconscious gender bias is surprisingly common in job ads and is stopping people, mostly women, from putting themselves forward for roles.

Words that stop women from applying

Unitive, a startup that creates bias-check software for companies, provided a list of words and terms that carry either problematic or inclusive connotations for women when they are looking at job ads.


  • Ambitious
  • Competitive salary
  • Analytical
  • Assertive
  • Strong


  • Adaptable
  • Collaborate
  • Intuitive
  • Creative
  • Resilient

This is just a small selection of the words that Unitive identified, but there seems to be an obvious pattern in terms of which words appeal to women and which might put them off. All the problematic words seem to indicate a level of confidence and self-assurance. Even the term ‘competitive salary’ flagged as problematic for female candidates, perhaps because it is an indication that they may need to negotiate their own salary for the role. This certainly isn’t a one size fits all approach and we are lucky to live in an age where women feel empowered to know their own worth and fight for it in the workplace. However, when writing your job descriptions, it is still important to keep your terminology balanced. It would be a shame to miss out on the perfect candidate simply because of certain word choices.

Another bias-check software company, Textio, found that even using phrases like ‘manage a team’ encourages more men to apply for the role than women. Their analysis found that simply changing the word ‘manage’ to ‘develop’ encourages more female candidates to apply. Their research also showed that even the format of a job advert can carry unconscious gender bias. Less women are likely to apply if you use long bullet points that detail in-depth the responsibilities of the role.

Why is workplace diversity important?

Having a diverse workforce is incredibly beneficial, not only for your team dynamic but also a company’s profitability. A gender diverse team has been shown to have more varied solutions and ideas, providing different approaches to tasks and broader creative input. A study by McKinsey & Company showed that companies with executive level gender diversity were 21% more likely to outperform their industry peers and experience above average financial performance. In their study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University, found that moving from an all-male or all-female workforce to one split evenly along gender lines could increase a company’s revenue by 41%. So, the more gender diverse your team is, the more productive, innovative and engaged they will be.

How to make your job ad stand out

As well as ensuring your job adverts are gender balanced, there are some other things you can do to make sure you’re attracting the best candidates. Start your job description with an account of what’s so great about working for your company and list the fulfilling tasks that your future employee has to look forward to. Use a unique but straightforward title, it’s the first thing a potential applicant will read, so come up with one that encourages them to read more. Leave out the generic terms and show your company’s personality and culture. This way, someone who would fit well within your team will feel encouraged to apply. Finally, consider using a different format. Not all job descriptions have to be purely text, a video job post could be far more engaging or a short infographic can be a good way to grab attention.

Do you need some advice on how to make sure your job adverts are gender balanced, or are you currently looking to add to your team? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

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