Could the language women use on their CVs contribute to an unequal gender pay gap?

Research has uncovered how men and women describe their achievements in vastly different ways, writes the marketing director of Major Players.

Is there an unequal gender pay gap in the creative sector? The answer is ‘yes’. But, could one of the reasons behind this be the way women write their CVs?

Fresh research from creative recruitment company Major Players suggests language could be one of the factors holding women back.

The study revealed an 18% pay gap, in favour of men.

"The largest gap is seen with art directors and creative teams at around 22% higher for comparable roles. The gap levels out at higher levels with relative parity in salaries for creative directors and executive creative director salaries," according to Rosa Rolo, director of Major Players. So, what could shape this disparity?

To uncover this, an independent researcher looked into the differences between the way women and men write their CVs. What the team discovered is how men and women describe their achievements in vastly different ways.

Rolo adds: "In terms of language, women were more likely to talk about their team’s successes, referring to ‘we’ and to the work of their colleagues than their male peers, even omitting direct mention of themselves throughout their entire CV. For example: ‘My team lead on the concept design or ‘We delivered the artwork’ as opposed to: ‘I led a multi-disciplinary team to deliver a successful campaign."

Twice as many women talked about their experiences in terms of having being ‘involved’, ‘participated’, ‘exposed to’ or vaguely ‘working on’ as men, as opposed to specifically ‘creating’, ‘producing’ or ‘leading’. Some of the examples of the phrases women use include ‘I have successfully been involved with high profile design projects’ or ‘I collaborated with different teams and directors’.

More women used language related to helping, assisting or supporting work than men such as: ‘During the re-brand I had the opportunity to work with the client’s design team at their offices to develop their style.’

"These subtle language differences could have an impact on salaries and career progression. Employers will always want to see leadership and ownership of ideas, projects and results," says Rolo. The research also found women were more likely to use a ‘friendly’ photograph where they are smiling on their LinkedIn profile whereas men bear a serious expression, again adding to the perception men are to be taken ‘seriously’.  

"Clearly, it is disappointing to see many women are just not getting paid commensurate to their input for comparable roles," says Upton. "The gap closes at more senior positions – possibly because there is a lack of supply in the marketplace (only 12% of creative directors are women), but until agencies and recruiters champion benchmarking and parity this trend is set to continue."

"It’s time to change our perception of the role and language women use in their CVs. In a world where diverse teams need leaders who champion teamwork, collaboration and the facilitation of ideas, the idea of ‘we did’ should be seen as a huge advantage," says Ali Hanan, founder and chief executive of Creative Equals, who recently launched Creative Equals Certified, a charter for recruiters to help shape a more diverse hiring stage.  ‘We will use this new research to inform the way teams view CVs without bias," she added.

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