Are Your Job Ads Too ‘Male-Sounding’?

By Dori Meinert May 28, 2014

June CoverBusiness leaders often lament that they don’t have many women in management because they get so few female applicants. Now researchers offer one reason why.

Women are less likely to apply for a job when the job description sounds “male,” according to a recent study.

Job ads that contain words such as “determined,” “assertive,” “aggressive” and “analytical” are less appealing to women because such words are linked with male stereotypes.

Researchers from Technische Universität München showed 260 individuals fictional job ads, including one for a training program for potential management positions. If an ad included a large number of traits associated with men, the women found it less appealing and were not as inclined to apply. Words that appealed more to the women included “dedicated,” “responsible,” “conscientious” and “sociable.”

What should HR professionals do about it?

Because the wording of the ads made no difference to the men in the study, employers that want to attract female candidates should strive to include more gender-balanced wording.

“Interestingly enough, many of the attributes that are female-sounding have been found to be components of particularly effective leadership,” says study author Claudia Peus, chair of research and science management at Technische Universität München in Germany.

Without gender-balanced wording, organizations are robbing themselves of the chance to attract good female applicants, Peus says, “and that’s because the stereotypes endure almost unchanged in spite of all the society transformation we have experienced.”

Working with a team from New York University, the researchers demonstrated that stereotypes persist. In a survey of about 600 U.S. employees of both genders, respondents considered women and men to be equally competent, productive and efficient. However, they rated men’s leadership skills higher. Women rated themselves and other women lower in this area.

​​​​​Most Desired Executive Trait: Ability to Motivate

The top skill that companies and boards of directors seek in senior executives is the ability to motivate and lead others, according to a survey of 1,270 business leaders from around the world.

In the survey, more top leaders said they preferred a senior executive who could motivate and inspire others (cited by 68 percent of respondents) than desired an executive who consistently performed well (26 percent).

“While high performance is required to reach the C-suite, an executive’s ability to motivate people to do what he or she needs them to do is the crucial differentiator between a good leader and a great one,” says Paul Dinte, chairman of IIC Partners, the executive search organization that conducted the online survey late last year. “A high-performing team will always produce more than a single individual.”​

Other valuable senior executive traits named by survey respondents include:

  • Strong ability to manage change (cited by 51 percent).
  • Ability to identify and develo​p talent (46 percent).
  • Innovative thinking (30 percent).

The average length of time that senior executives were expected to remain with an organization was seven years. In the Americas, the expectation was slightly longer at 7.9 years; in Asia-Pacific, it was just 5.9 years.

Length of service differs by industry. Professional services organizations retain senior executives the longest, 8.1 years, while tenure averages 5.7 years in the pharmaceutical industry and 6.1 years in the consumer product industry.

While more than half of the senior executives said their organizations have succession plans in place, most said it would take some time to find their replacement when they leave. Only 1 in 5 senior executives said their organizations would be able to replace them immediately if they left, according to the survey.


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