Women’s jobs, men’s jobs, feminine language, masculine language

Another item from my blog backlog, this time a 2/17 piece by Claire Cain Miller in the NYT,  (in print) “Job Disconnect: Male Applicants, Feminine Language”, (on-line) “Job Listings That Are Too ‘Feminine’ for Men”. On the one hand, we have jobs that are widely considered to be the province of one sex rather than the other (and so are dominated by that sex). On the other hand, we have lexical items that have associations with one gender rather than the other. Meanwhile, there’s a need to attract more men into what have traditionally been “women’s jobs” — because that’s where the action is.

The article reports on research about how things might be jiggled in a positive direction via the way job ads are phrased. This can be only a small piece of a solution, but it’s a possible piece.

The text:

Job postings for home health aides say applicants need to be “sympathetic” and “caring,” “empathetic” and focused on “families.” It turns out that doesn’t lead very many men to apply.

One of the biggest economic riddles today is why out-of-work men aren’t pursuing the jobs that are growing the most, which are mainly in health care. A big reason is that these so-called pink-collar jobs are mostly done by women, and that turns off some men.

Employers have something to do with that: An analysis of listings for the 14 fastest-growing jobs from 2014 to 2024 found that they used feminine language, which has been statistically shown to attract women and deter men. The study was done by Textio, which has analyzed 50 million job listings for language that provokes disproportionate responses from men or women.

The qualities sought for male-dominated jobs also apply to female-dominated ones, much more than traditionally male jobs require traditionally female qualities.

The most “feminine” job postings were those for home health aides, a job that is 89 percent female and projected to grow 38 percent by 2024. Common key words in the job descriptions were sympathetic, care, fosters, empathy and families — all of which Textio has found appeal more to female candidates — and are more likely to result in a female hire. Job listings for other fast-growing and female-dominated jobs like nurse practitioner, genetic counselor and physician assistant used similarly feminine language.

Compare that with job listings for cartographers, one of the few fast-growing jobs that is male-dominated. It is 62 percent male and expected to grow 29 percent by 2024. Common key words were manage, forces, exceptional, proven and superior. These words tend to appeal to men and generally result in a male hire, Textio found. Job descriptions for the two fastest-growing jobs that men mostly do — wind turbine technicians and commercial divers — also used masculine language.

But just as cartographers need to be “exceptional” and “proven,” so do health aides. The reverse is not necessarily true — cartographers don’t necessarily need to be “sympathetic” or focused on “families” to excel. That might be one reason that women have historically entered male-dominated professions, like law or management, more than men have entered female-dominated ones, like teaching or nursing.

Societal expectations and stigmas concerning masculinity deter men from feminine jobs, social scientists say, so some health care employers have tried to use more masculine language to appeal to men, like talking about the “adrenaline rush” of being an operating room nurse. A better solution, according to Textio’s data, is to use gender-neutral language in job postings.

For example, Textio said it improved the results for a job posting for a software development manager by changing a few words from masculine to gender neutral: “premier” instead of “world-class,” “extraordinary” instead of “rock star” and “handle a fast-paced schedule” instead of “manage” it.

There is a benefit to the employer in changing the wording. Gender-neutral language fills jobs 14 days faster than posts with a masculine or feminine bias, Textio said, and attracts a more diverse mix of people.

Ah, but then you have to smooth things once these people turn up for work. Looking at things from the other side of the lens: you can bring women into technical jobs, but if the workplace is hostile, things might not go well. You can bring men into health care jobs, but if they find their masculinity threatened by the culture of the workplace, things might not go well.

One Response to “Women’s jobs, men’s jobs, feminine language, masculine language”

  1. [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky links to and reflects on a recent article looking at how gendered language for different jobs can […]

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