Women seeking work are less likely to pursue job ads that frame personality requirements in terms of traits rather than tasks, a new study finds
Words matter — even in job listings.
Women seeking work are less likely to pursue job ads that frame personality requirements in terms of traits rather than tasks, a new study published in the journal Sex Roles suggests. In other words, they’re less attracted to listings with trait-based requirements like “You are calm/not nervous” than to ones with task-oriented demands like “You always remain calm under pressure.”
Across two studies using Belgian university students, the authors found that women were less attracted to jobs if they held negative “meta-stereotypes” — e.g., a belief that men stereotype them as emotional or insecure — about the personality traits required. Qualified women were less likely to apply “if a negatively meta-stereotyped trait was worded in a trait-like way than when it was worded in a behavior-like way,” the research further found.
“Job-seeking women might fear that they too will be judged stereotypically if they apply,” lead author Lien Wille of Belgium’s Ghent University said in a statement. “This underlines that the way job ads are written may have a discriminatory effect even when there is no discriminatory intent.”
Recruiters seeking “a highly qualified and gender-diverse” pool of potentials should exercise care in writing job ads, the authors advised. For job openings requiring traits for which women have negative meta-stereotypes, they added, companies may be better off framing the traits in terms of behavior.
“These findings indicate that qualification-based targeted recruitment initiatives can backfire but that organizations might attract a high quality and gender-diverse applicant pool by ‘getting the words right,’” co-author Eva Derous said.
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