Thames Water has seen a surge in the number of female applicants to frontline roles after culling 'masculine’ words like ‘champion’ from its job adverts.
When advertising for sewage works technicians last year, the water services firm revealed that just eight per cent of applications came from women – likely because they were discouraged by the wording.
To give greater insights as to why the interest levels were so low among women, the organisation used an online tool to uncover hidden meanings in the language used and to highlight ‘masculine-coded’ phrases.
In response to the findings, the firm removed words such as ‘competitive’, ‘confident’ and ‘champion’ from the job advert. The number of female applicants rose six-fold to 46% after the launch of the new £13-an-hour job advert.
In its place, Thames Water changed the wording of the advert to include phrases such as “we welcome people who want to learn and be team players” to further promote diversity and inclusion within the business.
Lucia Farrance, who led the Women in Ops Recruitment Project at Thames Water, explained that for real change to be effective, “women need more seats at the table”.
“There is a huge pool of untapped female talent out there and it is great to see some of that showing through in the recruits coming into the frontline teams at Thames Water.
“We are extremely passionate about championing the importance and benefits of a diverse and equal workforce. Gender should never be a barrier,” Farrance added.
According to I News, the water services firm said it is determined to increase female representation within the business – a figure which currently stands at 33% of its total headcount – and analysing the wording of job adverts will likely help to move the dial.
The language used in job adverts
The way in which a job advert is worded can have a huge impact on the number of male or female candidates that apply.
For example, a 2014 study carried out by academics Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen and Aaron Kay revealed that the popular recruiting terms “ambitious, assertive, decisive, determined and self-reliant” are viewed as male gendered.
On the flip side, I News reported that the words “committed, connect, interpersonal, responsible and yield” are considered more female gendered.
While it is important to ensure that job adverts are open and inclusive to all talent, 2020 data from Indeed found that just 13% of job adverts use diverse and inclusive language.
When the research was broken down by sectors, the data revealed that jobs in retail, hospitality and personal care were least likely to use such language – Onrec reported.
How can HR create more inclusive job adverts?
When it comes to writing a job advert, it is important that employers make roles open and accessible to a diverse slate of candidates.
To help achieve this, Mandy Watson, Managing Director of Ambitions Personnel, a recruitment firm, exclusively told HR Grapevine that employers should focus on the required skills and experience first.
“Candidates still profile themselves based on gender, so employers need to know that there is a duty to take responsibility for the connotations that apply to certain words they may find themselves using.
“Running a job description by several desks before publication is always a good idea and if you are really struggling, then an agency would be able to advise as they see hundreds of these a week and can recognise where firms are limiting or erring on the edges of discrimination in their descriptions,” she explained.
In addition, Watson said that gender bias in job adverts can sometimes be insinuated “through particular benefits and implications to someone’s personal life”.
She added: “The huge waves of gender inequality that still exist still haven't been ousted by the ground-breaking work and legislation of the last 20 years.
“Candidates and employees may now feel more comfortable airing their disquiet about such matters, but it is ultimately up to employers and those hiring to shake off these shackles and be more open to a world in which gender does not define occupation.”