One in two job ads has a male bias: StepStone develops a tool for greater equity in job searches

Düsseldorf, 26/10/2021

  • Job descriptions play a key role in the quest for greater equality in the world of work
  • Many job ads unintentionally contain wording that discourages women from applying – the reason for this is unconscious bias
  • The StepStone Gender Bias Decoder helps companies to eliminate these phrases and suggests alternatives

Things aren’t always equitable in the world of work, and it all starts with the job ad. Certain phrases in job descriptions don’t address all people equally – mostly unintentionally. This is the conclusion reached by the online job platform StepStone, which examined the language of more than half a million job descriptions from December 2020 and May 2021 on StepStone.de. 96 percent contained gender-specific wording – with a significantly stronger male than female bias. The sentence “We are looking for an assertive personality” in a job ad is an example of of a phrase that may appeal more to men than to women. The reason for this is unconscious bias. This refers to assumptions or stereotypes about women and men that people unconsciously internalize and that also influence our language. According to studies, women in particular find such wording off-putting*. One possible consequence is that they won’t even bother applying for a job – not realizing that the language has influenced their behavior.

“At StepStone, we want everyone to find the right job. That’s why we target our technology where it can open up even more opportunities for people in the world of work,” says StepStone CEO Dr. Sebastian Dettmers. “The majority of jobs currently have a male bias. With the Gender Bias Decoder, every company now has the opportunity to eliminate this bias.” The technology behind the StepStone Gender Bias Decoder detects whether a job ad contains gender-specific wording and highlights it. The tool also automatically suggests alternatives for more balanced wording.

StepStone technology supports companies’ diversity and inclusion management


To date, only one in five companies has a balanced gender ratio among job applicants, as shown by a StepStone study of 3,500 people, which is representative of the working population. In most cases, more men apply – especially for management positions. 85 percent of all jobseekers said they had decided against applying for a job because they felt the wording didn’t address them. The Gender Bias Decoder changes that. Recruiters can simply enter the text of the job ad into the tool, then the decoder analyzes how many masculine and feminine coded words it contains and whether there is a male bias. Replacing the phrase “We are looking for a strong team member” with “We are looking for a talented team member” could motivate more women to apply. The Gender Bias Decoder has already been used successfully for a number of years on StepStone platforms in the UK.

“Many companies are experiencing significant staff shortages. This will only get worse in the coming years as the working population is declining,” says Dettmers. “Employers know this and want more diversity. However, unconscious wording in job ads has the opposite effect. Starting now, we are offering companies technology to identify and eliminate gendered language and support their diversity and inclusion efforts.”

Male bias especially for management positions

StepStone’s analysis shows that almost all sectors have a strong male bias in their job ads, especially the telecoms and financial sectors**. On the other hand, there are only three sectors in which there are significantly more feminine coded words than masculine coded words: the hotel and catering industry, health care, and the education sector – jobs in which predominantly women are employed and pay levels are lower. The male bias is even more evident in job adverts for management positions, with 62 percent rather addressing men instead of women in their wording.

*Source: Evidence that gendered wording in job adverts exists and sustains gender inequality (Gaucher et al. 2011)

**Strong male bias = at least three more masculine than feminine coded phrases

For more data and insights, visit: https://www.stepstone.de/genderbias-in-stellenanzeigen

Check out the StepStone Gender Bias Decoder here: https://www.stepstone.de/genderbias-decoder

Images available on request from presse@stepstone.de

About the StepStone analysis of language in job adverts

Between December 1, 2020, and May 31, 2021, the StepStone Data Science Team used the Gender Bias Decoder to check around 683,000 job adverts published on StepStone for gender bias. For the detailed analysis, only sectors, professional groups, and management levels for which there were at least 1,000 jobs online were considered. Find out more about the analysis here: https://www.stepstone.de/genderbias-in-stellenanzeigen

About the StepStone Gender Bias Decoder

Research shows that women feel less drawn to job adverts with typically masculine wording and apply for these jobs less often. With the StepStone Gender Bias Decoder, employers can check their text for gender bias free of charge and use alternatives to make their job ad more successful. Check out the StepStone Gender Bias Decoder here: https://www.stepstone.de/genderbias-decoder

About the “Gender-Sensitive Recruitment” study

What role does unconscious bias play in recruitment? What is the gender ratio of applicants? To what extent do HR managers use measures to achieve greater equality in recruitment? What role does gender-neutral language play in job adverts? The StepStone Research Team interviewed a total of 3,500 people between July and August, including around 500 people responsible for recruitment. The study is representative of the working population.