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By Clare Jupp, Director of People Development

The gender pay gap in Financial Services currently stands at 23.25% in favour of men and yet research shows that the sector, at worst, comprises a 60% men/40% women split. Therefore, it is evident that there is an imbalance of men to women in the senior, higher paid roles. Indeed, the Gadhia review of 201S confirmed this. Whilst this is undesirable and the sector is seeking ways to redress this, we may be facing an ongoing challenge of finding that applications and short lists are still, inevitably, dominated by men. Therefore, whilst we may be keen to recruit more women, particularly in senior roles and whilst we might be welcoming change and fairer representation with open arms, we may still be finding that the ‘gene pool’ of applicants is limited and ‘male heavy’. Our desires and intentions may be good, but not being realised in practice. So what can we do in the here and now to redress this? I suggest that our job advertisements might be something to look at in closer detail.


Without even realising it, we are probably all using language that is ‘gender coded’, even if very subtly. Society has clear expectations about what men and women ‘are like’ and also how they differ and this impacts on the language that we use. For example, think about words such as ‘bossy’ and ‘feisty’ – are these words used frequently to describe men?


This linguistic gender coding also shows up in job adverts and interestingly, research has shown that it actually puts off women from applying for job roles that are advertised with what we could describe as ‘masculine-coded’ language. Indeed, the use of certain words has a discouraging effect and might explain why, in spite of your organisation’s best efforts to encourage a diverse and balanced workforce, there are not enough women even applying for roles, let alone being appointed.


The wording and content of adverts is something that many organisations are starting to look at more carefully and I am certainly interested by some research that I came across describing a ‘gender decoder for adverts’. This tool was inspired by a research paper called ‘Evidence that Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality’. It allows you to ‘put your advert through’ the decoder tool and then tells you whether it is masculine, feminine or neutral by means of analysing word and phrases that have been used.


In the paper that sits behind the design of the decoder tool, the researchers showed job adverts to men and women which included different kinds of gender-coded language. They then recorded how appealing the jobs seemed and how much the participants felt that they ‘belonged’ in that occupation.


Their results showed that women felt that job adverts with masculine-coded language were less appealing and that they belonged less in those occupations. For men, feminine-coded adverts were only slightly less appealing and there was no effect on how much the men felt that they belonged in those roles. I conclude from this that the wording of and language used in job adverts is crucial if you are aiming to attract more female applicants, for it is they who will be deterred If the linguistic gender coding suggests it is ‘a job for the boys’.


The tool that I have described checks job adverts for the appearance of any of these words, then calculates the relative proportion of masculine coded and feminine coded words to reach an overall verdict on the gender-coding of the advert. On the ‘masculine’ list are words such as competitive, decisive, ambitious, courageous, driven and self-confident. Conversely, on the ‘feminine’ list are words such as interpersonal, cooperative, collaborative, inclusive, loyalty and supportive.


The dilemma of attracting less female applicants may not of course, all be in the language of adverts as such but also wrapped up in the fact that women are naturally less risk taking and courageous than men. Indeed, some research suggests that if they are not at least 95% certain that they meet the job criteria for a role, they will be deterred from applying. Men, on the other hand, will press on even if they consider they can only tick 70% of the required boxes.


Therefore, with the ‘risk factor’’ being significant to job applications, I suggest that it may be worth trying to add a ‘footer’ where you state that applicants may not meet all criteria but should feel encouraged to apply. It would also be worth mentioning that flexible working arrangements will be considered. Finally, at Brightstar a key quote that I’m well known for using is ‘we hire for attitude and train for skill’. I think this approach is really important as the emphasis is on finding the right ‘cultural fit’ rather than the applicant with the CV that matches the criteria the best. Thus, perhaps this is something that job advertisements should state.


My final word on this issue would be that becoming a Women in Finance signatory and subsequent use of the ‘Women in Finance Charter’ logo could be a simple but excellent way of attracting more women to your organisation. It says so much about your workplace culture and it is a statement of intent about your business. It heralds your commitment to safeguarding and promoting diversity (in all forms) and it gives a clear message that your organisation is committed to progressing women’s careers into the senior ranks.