Restrictive job adverts are putting women off applying to top jobs, claims one female CEO.
Speaking to the BBC, Severn Trent chief executive Liv Garfield, 43, explained that more companies in the water, construction and rail sectors are asking for specific skills in job application forms.
Not only does this leave women feeling like they’re under-qualified for roles, but by dissuading them from applying altogether it also ensures that these industries remain largely male-dominated.
“Often lots of women don’t have the confidence to think, ‘do I match all of those boxes?’,” she said.
“If they don’t match all the boxes, they immediately, almost, don’t apply – they cross themselves off the list.”
In order to rectify this, Garfield suggests making simple tweaks to job ads to encourage a diverse mix of applicants. Instead of stating essential skills, she says it might be better to ask for applicants to list the skills they've acquired in previous roles or ask for information on the activities they do outside of work.
Another tactic, which is something Severn Trent has adopted, is "blind marking" CVs, which involves removing an applicant's name, race and sex so that they can be judged entirely without bias by employers.
Garfield went on to explain how crucial it is to overcome these hurdles so that for young girls see more women in positions of power.
“If people can see that somebody has walked in those footprints or they can look up and see there is a role model there, it often gives people confidence,” she added.
Garfield's comments align with previous research that has shown how using certain words in job ads might also dissuade women from applying.
Textio, a Seattle-based software writing company that helps companies diversify their employment intake, conducted analysis on more than 25,000 job ads and found that using certain words, such as “manage”, “competing” and “tackle”, in job specs may encourage more men than women to apply.
Meanwhile, phrases such as “storytelling”, “our family” and “meaningfully” would appeal more to female applicants than male ones.
The research was conducted using artificial intelligence that identifies particularly male or female terms in job applications that could foster gender bias and suggests more neutral alternatives.
“Changing the words you use won’t change your culture overnight,” writes chief executive of the company, Kieran Snyder, in a blog post.
“But getting consistent and intentional about language does create accountability for teams to aim for the environment that you’re all aspiring to — and that’s the first step to getting there.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies