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Hiring for your next IT recruit? Ditch the gender bias

By Sara Barker
Mon 1 Jul 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Those tasked with writing job advertisements for IT job vacancies should consider the type of language they use and make sure what they’re writing isn’t biased towards one particular gender.

A new study by Perth-based IT support company TechBrain found that gendered language could be a piece in the wider puzzle of why there are far fewer women in IT roles than men.

As part of the study, TechBrain commissioned an independent researcher to analyse 1940 job ads that were posted online over a single week in June 2019.

TechBrain’s aim was to see if claims that gendered use of words can have an effect on the number of men or women who apply for IT jobs in the ‘heavily male-dominated IT industry’, particularly since it is illegal to discriminate against candidates on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy.

“While no one is saying that the only reason that there are more men than women working in tech is because of gendered language in job ads, our study does suggest that it is a factor,” comments TechBrain general manager Mike Fernando. 

“If perfectly qualified women see job ads which are full of ‘masculine’ words, they may not identify with the role and see themselves working for that employer - and that means they may choose not to apply."

The researcher used a tool that counted the frequency of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ words in an ad, with 50 keywords as references. These keywords included words that apparently appeal to men such as ‘active’, ‘fearless’, and ‘independent’, while words that apparently appeal to women included ‘cooperate’, ‘empathise’, and ‘interdependent’.

The research found that there were actually 15% more feminine words used in IT industry ads than masculine words.

The most common ‘feminine’ word found was ‘support’ (appearing 1668 times), which may have skewed the results. ‘Support’ is used frequently in IT job ads and often refers to a technical activity, rather than expectations about the applicant’s personal and professional qualities

If the word ‘support’ was removed, the findings did in fact show that there are more ‘masculine’ words used in IT job ads.

The research also revealed that for more highly paid jobs, the number of ‘masculine’ words increases, whereas for less well-paid jobs, there were more ‘feminine’ words.

TechBrain says it will also give its HR company a 16.4% budget increase to hire a suitably qualified woman in an IT role. The figure was chosen because the gender pay gap in Australia is currently 16.4%.

“Actions speak louder than words. As our study showed, higher paid IT jobs are advertised in a way that appeals more to men than women,” says Fernando.

“We want to ensure that we write all our ads in future to be more neutral, to increase the likelihood of finding the best hire - be they male or female. And, we’d challenge other IT industry players to do the same.”

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