The workplace landscape has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Fifty years ago, only 38 percent of adult women were in the labor force, while today that number is closer to 60 percent. Yet even though more than half of all women work today, they make up only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 company CEOs. This stark discrepancy has given rise to many theories as to why more women aren’t in leadership positions in the corporate world. One recent study may be shedding some light on the issue.
According to a research study conducted by the Technical University of Munich, the way a job ad is worded can dissuade many women from even applying. Researchers showed test subjects fictional job ads that included traits normally associated with men, such as “assertive,” “independent,” “aggressive,” and “analytical.” Many of the female test subjects deemed these jobs less appealing and were less inclined to apply to them. On the other hand, they found job ads with words like “dedicated,” “responsible,” “conscientious,” and “sociable” more appealing.
The study shows that women may not identify with what have been traditionally considered to be “male” traits related to leadership in the workplace. They don’t see those words as describing their skills and aptitudes, so they make the incorrect and detrimental assessment that they’re simply not right for the job. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wording of the job ads made no difference to the male test subjects in the study.
More troubling still, the study also showed that women rate their own leadership skills lower than men’s. Although all of the respondents (male and female) agreed that both men and women are equally competent, productive, and efficient, the women in the study rated themselves and other women as being less capable in leadership positions than the men did.
This part of the study demonstrates a reality that all too many of us are familiar with: although we know that both men and women are capable of succeeding in leadership positions, women simply have more self-doubt than men.
But women applicants aren’t the only ones who need to start shifting their mindsets. Employers and HR departments have a big role to play in turning this ship around. Instead of wondering why more women don’t apply to management jobs, try appealing to qualified women in a different way. Professor Claudia Peus, the Chair of Research and Science Management at the Technical University of Munich who headed the study, said, “Without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organizations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants.” A more balanced job ad might be the first step in the right direction, by getting talented female leaders interested in joining your company.