Openreach spotlights hidden gender bias in its own job adverts

2 min read Networks & Network Services
Openreach has taken a detailed look at the language it uses across its recruitment channels as part of a new study analysing the impact of latent bias in job adverts.

The company worked with linguistic specialists Linguistic Landscapes and gender bias expert Dr Chris Begeny from Exeter University to create a new, consciously unbiased, job description for the company’s entry level engineering role. The language of the new advert has been written to appeal to men and women equally, whilst actively combating some of the challenges females face in the pre-application phase.

Through comparing the existing job advert with the newly written one, female job applicants were found to be 50 per cent less likely to consider roles that have a coded gender bias. When presented with a gender-inclusive advert as part of the study, women’s interest in the role increased by more than 200 per cent, with 60 per cent stating this was because of the way it was written.

Kevin Brady, HR director at Openreach, explained, “Whether it's overt discrimination or a more subtle forms of bias, male-dominated industries like engineering have traditionally been challenging for women. Our engineers aren’t defined by their gender, they’re defined by what they do, and this research is incredibly important in helping us to develop ways here at Openreach to redress the balance.

“We were amazed to see just how much of a difference language makes and have started the process of assessing and changing all relevant language to help overcome the challenges of diversity recruitment. We hope that this will be the catalyst for helping to break down barriers stopping women from considering a role in engineering.”   

The study uncovered three key areas for improvement for future Openreach recruitment content. These were: latent gendered phraseology, active vs passive construction (i.e. either a more masculine or feminine skew in the language used), and key skillset descriptors. Openreach hopes its new linguistic approach will help it meet a commitment to recruit a minimum of 20 per cent females into new roles this year – more than ten times historic levels.

Dr Chris Begeny, research fellow in gender and organisational psychology at the University of Exeter, added, “All too often the rhetoric around issues of underrepresentation and improving women’s experiences in male-dominated sectors emphasises the idea that women need to lean in and overcome their own internal barriers – overcoming that lack of confidence or lack of perceived fit for a position that might lead women to pass up on an opportunity to pursue a particular job. Yet these fix yourself strategies, often espoused as a method of empowerment, can perpetuate victim blaming. They reinforce the belief that the problem exists squarely within the individual – a problem of internal barriers – and so it is the individual’s responsibility to fix themselves.

“This of course misses the fact that women’s internal barriers often exist because of external barriers – exposure to subtly biased language, stereotypes, and discriminatory treatment that lead women and other marginalised group members to question their suitability for a job and thus their tendency to pursue that opportunity.”