Applying a Gender Lens to your job advertisements

What is a Gender Lens?

Applying a gender lens is like wearing a pair of glasses.

If you wear glasses, then you understand how difficult it is to see things clearly without them. The road signs along the freeway, the words in a book, the emails on a computer screen - all the information is there, but without your glasses, it might as well be invisible to you.

If you don't wear glasses, then think what it's like to try to see underwater without goggles or a mask.

Looking at the world without a gender lens can be a bit like swimming without goggles or reading without glasses. The default gender-related assumptions that underlie our thinking are likely to remain invisible or blurry, and therefore they can mislead us, even without our realising it, unless we bring them to attention, question them specifically, and look objectively at precisely what lies before us.

Why do we need a Gender Lens when writing job advertisements?

We live in a world where the default settings have been set by heteronormative men and for heteronormative men. As a result, men and women face different expectations and challenges and often this leads to an imbalance between their opportunities.

Men and women use different language to describe the world around them [1], and there is established evidence to support the use of specific language in stereotyping men and women [2]. This applies to job advertisements - ads for jobs in male-dominated fields tend to use more masculine words, such as 'independent' or 'assertive', and ads for jobs in women-dominated fields use more feminine words, such as 'empathetic' or 'supportive'[3].

This has a powerful influence on the individuals considering applying for a job. Men are more likely to apply for jobs that have descriptions containing stereotypically masculine words, and women are more likely to apply for jobs containing stereotypically feminine words [4]. Whether this happens consciously or not, the language used in the job advertisement acts as a signifier for an individual to assess whether they're suitable for the role or not.

This doesn't mean that men can't be empathetic and supportive, or that women can't be independent and assertive - they absolutely can. It's simply that women tend to respond to job advertisements that use feminine words, and men respond to those that have masculine words.

This blind spot doesn't just apply to men, and not only women are affected by it. Both men and women are socially conditioned to see things a certain way and can behave in a way that reinforces stereotypes. These thoughts and actions can be subtle or invisible and often they aren't intentional or malicious which makes it even more important to bring them to attention in a constructive way.

Applying a gender lens can help prevent us from unintentionally excluding people from applying for jobs, when in fact what we want is the complete opposite.

Balancing gendered language in job advertisements

To help you avoid creating a gender biased job advertisement, we've implemented a word-checker on Good Jobs. Our Gender Lens word-checker scans the text in your advertisements, and highlights typically masculine and feminine words used.

If you find your advertisement contains a significant number of either masculine or feminine words, and few or none of the other, you may wish to edit the application to re-balance your language.


[1] Carli, L. L. (1990). Gender, language, and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 941-951. doi:10.1037/0022- 3514.59.5.941

[2] Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001b). Ambivalent stereotypes as legitimizing ideologies: Differentiating paternalistic and envious prejudice. In J. T. Jost & B. Major (Eds.), The psychology of legitimacy: Emerging perspectives on ideology, justice, and intergroup relations (pp. 278 -306). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Kay, A. C. (2011). Evidence that gendered working in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inquality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 109-128. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.101.1.109

[4] Ibid.

Become a member of ICDA – it's free!