Could Gender Neutral Language Close The Gender Gap?


We need more initiatives if we are going to make progress in increasing diversity and closing the gender gap in employment.  One such initiative is to consider the masculine versus feminine language used in recruitment and promotion.

According to a recent article in Personnel Today, the government is to consider using “gender-neutral language” in apprenticeship standards to ensure women are not deterred from training for a career in traditionally male-dominated occupations.

A trial will see the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfA), the government body that signs off apprenticeship standards, drop words judged to be “masculine” – such as “determined” and “boasting” – in favour of more “feminine” words – including “kind” and “understand” – when advertising for 12 apprenticeships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Women represented just under 9% of STEM apprenticeship starters in 2017/18, according to gender balance campaign group WISE.

Ana Osbourne, deputy director for apprenticeship approvals at the IfA, said that the language used in job advertisements “can make the job more or less appealing to one gender and therefore discourage women from applying for certain jobs”.

In Sweden, many employment related documents are already drafted in gender neutral language. “Hen” is a gender-neutral personal pronoun in Swedish intended as an alternative to the gender-specific hon ("she") and han ("he").    

Nordic countries lead the world at closing the gender gap* and, in recent years, have taken root at the top of the global rankings. Perhaps the use of gender-neutral language by these nations helps them be so far ahead of others?

*Global Gap Report 2018. World Economic Forum Note 2018 rank out of 144 countries

For advice on gender neutral language and your own recruitment strategies, please contact the Starford team on 01342 347063 or email