March 16, 2020

Busting Gendered Language Myths

Let’s talk about gendered language. There’s a lot of myths going around about how we should be composing our employer branding content. Today’s the day we’re going to get to the bottom of it, look at the trend as a whole and explore how we actually should be approaching true and authentic inclusivity.

If you work within recruitment, you’ve probably already heard of using gender bias words in your job descriptions, and how this can potentially dissuade applicants from applying. There are even companies out there that will charge you to check if your adverts are using “gender-charged” terms.

Just to clarify, according to Top Echelon, here are some examples of gender-charged words.

Gender charged words geared towards Men;

  •  confident, determined, decisive

… And ones geared towards Women;

  •  supportive, collaborative, loyal

As a woman, hearing words like confident, determined, decisive, won’t stop me from applying for roles. In fact these are all traits I’d like to think I possess. What will stop us, could be a business’s gender pay gap, their stance on sustainability or even lack of purpose. But let me not get carried away.

Here, in the Squid Tank we wanted to test the theory that words could be intrinsically gendered. So, we got our awesome data team involved. We took the apparently male gendered word “ambition  and did a Google Analytics search to see who out of men and women were searching the term the most often. Well, the results are in, and the ladies came out on top.

So, if it’s not about the adjectives, how should we be approaching gendered language? It seems the real issue is using terms such as waitress or chairman or using masculine pronouns “he, him, his to refer to people as a whole.  In our much more inclusive world, where we’re encouraged to identify with whatever pronoun we feel comfortable with, it makes sense that we’re starting to look at the use of language as a more neutral vehicle. For example, last year the US city of Berkley voted to remove gendered language from its municipal codes by changing words like manhole to maintenance hole. The authors believed that “by eliminating any gender preference language” it will “promote equality”.

However, on the other side of the coin, culturally, even us women could be seen as adding fuel to the fire. Ever heard of the terms girlboss or mansplaining”? What started out as a tongue in cheek way of highlighting the disparity in our language, has turned into a bunch of Instagram quotes, and created a whole new version of gendered language. And whilst I’m all for bringing down the patriarchy, I can’t help but feel we’re taking a step backwards by pushing this rhetoric.

So, let’s stop focusing on adjectives or excluding each other, and instead strive for authentic inclusivity.

Content we create should be a true reflection of our business. The sooner we realise that and stop worrying about putting people off, the sooner we will find the right people, no matter how they identify.