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01 August 2019

UK businesses could be losing out on diverse talent due to language used in the hiring process

New research from LinkedIn with input from the Global Institute for Women's Leadership reveals how language impacts men and women differently in the workplace.

LinkedIn research
New research from LinkedIn with input from the Global Institute for Women's Leadership reveals how language impacts men and women differently in the workplace.

The Global Institute for Women's Leadership advised LinkedIn on a new report on the impact of language on women and men in the workplace. The research looks at the differences in how men and women respond to certain words, as well as the language they use to describe themselves in the hiring process. Half (52%) of UK female workers would be put off a role if the workplace environment was described as ‘aggressive’ - compared to just 32% of men - but over 50,000 job descriptions on LinkedIn currently include the word ‘aggressive’.

These nuances could be damaging businesses’ chances of attracting diverse talent, as 40% of UK talent professionals never consider gender when writing job adverts, with nearly half (44%) not tracking or measuring which gender their job posts are appealing to.

Based on LinkedIn profiles and platform interactions alongside a study of 12,000 workers globally, these insights provide an in-depth look at the words men and women use in the world of work, so that businesses can better understand how to build diverse teams.

Language and tailoring employer brand is key in the hiring process

Women respond differently to certain words in the hiring process and also prioritise different benefits. Over half (52%) of women would be put off a role if it was described as "aggressive" (compared to 32% of men) and a quarter (24%) would be put off by the term "born leader" (compared to 18% of men), 26% would be put off by the word "demanding" (compared to 17% of men).

Talent professionals should also be thinking about what benefits they highlight in job adverts and interviews too. Salary comes out top for both men and women, but women rank additional benefits like annual leave allowance (61% compared to 48% of men) and flexible working (54% compared to 37% of men) much higher.

The words men and women use to represent their experience varies

The research also found that men and women favour different words and language in both describing their work experience and how they express themselves at work – even if they are at similar seniority levels. While both men and women use measurable terms like "hard-working" to indicate their work ethic, women tend to use more words that are ambiguous and relate to their character.

For example, 40% would say they are "supportive" (compared to 24% of men), 34% said they are "fair" (compared to 25% of men) and 30% said they are nice (compared to 19% of men). This is backed up by the fact 59% of women would most associate women with "softer skills".

Women and men still have different perceptions on workplace culture and behaviour

There is still some disparity in what men and women perceive as acceptable language and behaviour in today’s workplace culture. 44% of women have been described as "nice" at work compared to just 28% of men. And 54% of men think it is acceptable to address colleagues as "guys", compared to 45% of women, and 53% of women think "bros" is unacceptable, compared to 40% of men.

If a male colleague talked over them in a meeting, 31% of women would describe him as "condescending", compared to just 17% of men who would feel the same if a fellow man did it to them.

Janine Chamberlin, Director, Talent Solutions at LinkedIn UK commented: “This research highlights just how important it is to understand the nuances in how men and women interact in both the hiring process and the workplace. In today’s competitive job landscape - with unemployment at its lowest level for decades - talent professionals need to be deliberate with the words they are using in job adverts, interviews, social media and in the workplace itself if they wish to attract, build and retain diverse teams.”

Professor Rosie Campbell, Professor of Politics and Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King's College London, commented: “Getting the wording of an advert right can be key for attracting the right candidate. Previous experiments have demonstrated that the use of certain types of masculine types language reduces the likelihood that women will respond to advertisements. While analysis of LinkedIn data elsewhere suggests that the use of gender-skewed language has decreased over-time, unfortunately it is relatively more common as the positions advertised rise in seniority.”