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Why women rarely apply to alpha-tier job postings

We struggle to find female candidates for management positions, but when it comes to concrete measures to promote diversity in the workplace, we hesitate: Could this divide the workforce? The logic is sort of, 'We won't do that if it bothers some.' I don't think we can afford that anymore. I often talk to medium-sized companies that are located away from the big cities. They're hit hardest by the shortage of skilled workers, and attracting women to management positions is particularly difficult for them.

One lever to address the problem is on my desk every day: job ads are the first point of contact for potential female candidates. Today, the position title is kept diverse (in German: 'm/f/d' or 'all genders'), but the text underneath usually reads as if a men's soccer team is looking for a striker, a pack a leader, a special squad a boss. When a typical alpha dog is described for the position of 'management director,' this tends to appeal to men. Commonly known examples of this are adjectives such as assertive, determined, ambitious, analytical, independent, offensive, decisive, even nouns such as assertiveness and clout. Some are now thinking, 'But surely these are neutral terms?' or 'Surely women can be assertive too...'. True, but in our culture these terms are closely associated with male stereotypes.

The research situation is quite clear on this: The linguist Dr. Simone Burel therefore replaced strong team with team in the unsuccessful job advertisement of a company and added attributes such as 'reliable' and 'honest'. Three candidates then applied, and two of them were found to be suitable. I was fascinated by the story behind it: While Simone Burel was still doing her doctorate on the language of DAX 30 companies in 2015, she realized she was sitting on a gap in the market. In 2019, she turned the topic into a management consultancy. One of the very few DAX companies that is already further along in the topic is Infineon. For example, the semiconductor manufacturer is replacing adjectives such as 'ambitious' with 'motivated' and 'independent' with 'responsible.' The concern that male qualities will now be excluded is taken away from the workforce right away: 'We choose adjectives and phrases that appeal to women in particular, but in no way discourage men from applying.' There are other levers we can work with. Language is only the most obvious starting point, and the job ad is only the first step on the way to new female colleagues.

About the author

Dr. Sebastian Tschentscher finds the best digital minds for your company with his executive search boutique "Digital Minds".

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