Women don’t apply for male-sounding jobs, study finds

by Evil HR Lady on April 18, 2014

A new study out of the Technical University of Munich shows that women are less likely to apply for jobs that include words like “assertive”, “independent”, “aggressive” and “analytical,” opting instead for job postings that use words like “dedicated”, “responsible”, “conscientious” and “sociable.” Men, on the other hand, were happy to apply for jobs in both categories.

The complete study has not yet been released, but the preliminary results show that while female job applicants feel that they don’t qualify for jobs that require assertiveness or independence, everyone else thinks they do. The study’s authors found that Americans of both genders considered women and men to be equally competent, productive and efficient. However, women believed that they, themselves, as well as other women, had less capability when it came to leadership skills.

This is something women can and should fix. Stop underestimating your own skills. Stop underestimating the skills of other women. Here are some things to keep in mind:

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

EngineerGirl April 19, 2014 at 9:34 am

C’mon Suzanne. These women believe that they aren’t qualified because for years they’ve been told just that. You’ve seen the studies – When identical resumes were put out with male and female names, the female candidates were judged less competent and received lower pay. And the other side of it is that women get praised less so think themselves less competent. It all adds up over the years.
If companies really want to promote women then they should actually give recognition where recognition is due. That means reaching out to women and encouraging them to apply.

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EngineerGirl April 19, 2014 at 9:41 am
Evil HR Lady April 20, 2014 at 8:06 am

Companies are generally bad at recognizing ability at men as well. The difference is that men are wiling to speak up while women sit back and wait to be recognized.

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EngineerGirl April 21, 2014 at 9:40 am

The studies don’t show that. They show that they consistently give lower marks to women Which means that they don’t recognize ability in women in the same way as men.
And don’t forget that a women that does speak up is “pushy”.

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Jamie April 21, 2014 at 8:32 pm

I’m wondering how this is happening. I am assertive and I do speak up for myself, and what the studies say should happen–that I would be punished in some fashion–has never once happened. In fact, a male supervisor once admired the way I defend myself. No one has labeled me bossy; I’m not frightened that I’ll be labeled bitchy. Perhaps this possibility is an issue for women who were never raised to stand up for themselves, but it’s not an issue for all women.

Plus, underestimating your own skills is just as often a matter of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where competent people often underestimate themselves. It’s something that clears itself up when you get enough people to compare yourself to 🙂 I used to underestimate one of my core skills until I got went to work in a place where every colleague should have possessed that skill, as a rule, but didn’t.

I have a close colleague who is the type of woman the studies only ever seem to deal with: she’s hesitant and hedges when she talks; she refuses to speak up for herself and she really does think that the recognition of her value is just supposed to happen. In our latest talk I advised her to point out some great things she did for the self-eval portion of our yearly evaluations. She refused, because she was scared of making a slacker (male) colleague look bad. I’ve suggested she let the facts speak for themselves and quit throwing herself under the bus ahead of time, but no dice.

It’s frustrating–and it has nothing to do with her being a woman. A huge, self-acknowledged problem for her was that she was raised to believe passivity is a virtue. That does not appear to have been the case for our dept. head (a woman), or our go-getter colleagues (also women). I don’t think it would help her to blame sexism; that’s too defeatist. She can’t change being a woman, but she can change her behavior and attitude.

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Kathy April 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm

When I worked at a personnel search agency, some employers would ask for a man or a woman and say bluntly that they would not accept otherwise. We had a set of similar adjectives to put on job requirements sheets that signaled to our fellow agents that women (or men) need not apply. Not that we meant to discriminate, the office owner told us, but if we sent an applicant that the employer wouldn’t ever hire, it wouldn’t help the applicant, wouldn’t help us, and would antagonize a potential customer. That was a good few years ago now, but I wonder if today’s employers still use such adjectives to tilt the applicant pool toward the gender they favor.

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Evil HR Lady April 20, 2014 at 8:07 am

This is appalling.

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Stew May 4, 2014 at 1:21 am

It’s sad but true. I can count the number of times I have been rejected from positions, because I was a guy.

Most of the time the recruiter would fudge their words and say “The client is really looking for “soft skills” in for this role” or similar tones. (I imagine female’s would suffer the opposite fate).

One recruiter was up-front with me once and said that they believed being a women in a particular industry was easier, and this role was really looking for someone of that nature. I thanked them for being honest (even if they didn’t spell it out EXACTLY).

Overseas it is far worse. Males are never seen in certain industries unless they start up shop themselves. Often the people who are making the choice are female and feel that they should “Do their part” to make sure they balance the gender bias in a work place.
In unemployment offices, a common phrase for a certain people is:
“You have 3 things going against you; your’e male, you’re middle age and you’re * – so you will rank lowest on anyone’s EEO scorecard, so if your unemployed now good luck getting a new job.”
(* muted on purpose)

Which raises a good question – if we simply removed sex and EEO criteria from application……would we be less biased?

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fposte April 21, 2014 at 4:21 am

From what I can see, it’s likely this was a German-language study–it’d be interesting to see how this works across languages and countries, and whether the “buzzwords” change.

I’m guessing it’s the same group as the folks who did this: http://www.tum.de/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/short/article/30864/

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MGMT455 April 25, 2014 at 3:43 am

I agree with Jamie, but I also think that it depends on the culture of the company you are working for. As a soon-to-be college grad, I recently interviewed for an Administrative position at an executive staffing company. After interviewing with the owner of the company (a male), two administrative employees (females) asked me a couple questions as well. After a few minutes, the owner poked his head through the door and let them know they were out of time, and then told me, ” I know the women would love more time with you, but you know how you guys get to gabbing when left alone!”

In this paticular company, where there were no females in management positions, I feel that if I were to try to speak up or try to defend my viewpoints or work, I would certainly be labled “pushy”. The owner had a sexist attitude, and that speads to the organization as a whole. However, I’m sure there are plenty of companies out there who value all their women employees and want them to speak up so they can make valuable contributions. Hopefully one day EVERY organization will be like that.

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Madeline Danielle April 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm

I agree with EngineerGirl 100%. There is something called “collective guilt”, something the Germans have – for example – even now they feel guilty and apologize for what the Nazis did, even if they had nothing to do with it, as individuals. We were taught to not trust ourselves, mostly because there are many who still believe in an older law like it’s a religion of some sort. It’s the fear of change that drives these peoples, probably both men and women, I dare say.

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Lorena May 1, 2014 at 7:03 am

I agree with Jamie, that this obviously does not apply to all women.

I think that underestimating one’s worth is more detrimental than getting any praise or outside accolades. Which could go along with this study, being that the key words are those of confidence and esteem.

Also, I think this points out that in terms of recruitment someone posting a job opening might limit who will reply to the post and thus have less diversity by using words that have been proven to attract men more than women in the workforce.

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