Do tech job descriptions deter women in IT?

One reason for the lack of women in IT could be the way job descriptions are written, according to one study.

Women in IT make up just 25% of the tech workforce, according to recent estimates. And as businesses are struggling to compete for top IT talent, many experts have pointed out that reaching out to more female job seekers could help close skills gaps.

That’s especially the case when it comes to soft skills, according to one survey. Most companies surveyed by Harvey Nash (68%) said they believed having more women in IT would help the department improve relationships with users, create greater team cohesion, and increase creativity and innovation.

Hiring more women in IT

While there are many possible explanations, a recent study published by the American Psychological Association says that the wording used in job descriptions could have an affect on the gender of the applicants who respond.

Researchers looked at 4,000 job descriptions, and broke them into two categories. The first group included listings containing words psychologists say is more appealing to men, such as “active”, “ambitious”, “analytical”, “competitive”, “dominate” and “independent”, while the second group featured more words traditionally thought of as female-oriented, such as “committed”, “dependable”, “responsible” and “supportive”.

Their conclusion: Job areas that tend to be dominated by men used listings like those in the first group, while jobs more often held by women used descriptions like those in the second group.

To see what impact those job descriptions may have on who applies, the researchers also conducted a study of 96 randomly selected job seekers who read sample listings. The researchers wrote two listings for each job — one using male-centric language and the other using words oriented toward women.

Subjects were then asked to rate each job listing based on how appealing the position seemed and how well they thought they would fit in the role. The result: The women gave higher ratings to the female-oriented descriptions and lower ratings to the other group, and vice versa for the male subjects.

That was the case regardless of which gender is more closely associated the job type. For example, when the right wording was used, women were as attracted to engineering jobs as the men.

The lesson, according to the study’s authors: Listings for jobs in IT and other areas in which women are a minority may in subtle ways dissuade female applicants from sending in their resumes.

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