Could job ads be driving women away from leadership roles?

There has been a lot of recent discussion surrounding the absence of women in executive positions in Australia, and the ensuing gender imbalance in leadership.

Much of this may be down to women being overlooked for these roles, but does this skew begin even before they join the company – in the recruitment and selection process, for example?

A new study from the Technische Universitat Munchen (TUM), a leading German university, revealed that organisations may be reducing their chances of hiring top female leaders by placing the wrong types of job advertisements. In particular, the wording in job ads was found to have a particularly strong say in whether a woman applied for a position or not.

Researchers from the university showed fictional job listings – mostly for management development positions – to almost 300 subjects from both genders. They found that an ad outlining traits often associated with men, such as 'assertive' and 'independent', were unlikely to appeal to women and therefore lower their chances of applying.

On the other hand, women found ads that displayed 'softer' traits such as 'dedicated' and 'sociable' more appealing. The male subjects had no preference for either type of wording.

The authors of the study thus concluded that common excuses for not having women in leadership roles, such as not seeing female applicants of adequate quality, were probably unfounded – and could be resolved by tweaking job descriptions.

“A carefully-formulated job posting is essential to get the best choice of personnel,” explained Professor Claudia Peus from the Chair of Research and Science Management at TUM.

“In most cases, it doesn't make sense to simply leave out all of the male-sounding phrases. But without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organisations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants.”