Universities and colleges have a responsibility to ensure gender bias is “unlearned”, according to a Glasgow Caledonian University academic.

Gail McEwen, who sits on the University’s Suite of Assessment (SAT) team, studied existing research and discovered that the use of “gender-coded language” in recruitment material can have a significant impact on the gender balance of students applying to study higher education.

Gender-coded language is described by the employer’s council (2020) as: Words or phrases associated with a particular gender, specifically male or female, often based on stereotypes.

Words such as ‘aggressive’, ‘competitive’, ‘decisive’, ‘dominate’ and ‘fearless’ are deemed to be male coded and words such as ‘collaborative’, ‘honest’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘committed’ and ‘patient’ are examples of female-coded language.

Gail said: “In modern society, almost every sector is suffering from skills shortages, particularly in STEM-related subjects, which can only be mitigated by upskilling and attracting new talent from the next generation.

“However, by the time students are ready to enter a college or university setting, gender bias has, according to research, already been embedded and has ultimately limited their potential.

“Such establishments can pave the way to reversing these deep-seated issues by changing mindsets within the learning environment. Prejudice is learned and by definition, can be unlearned. Universities and colleges have a pivotal part to play as they are the steppingstone for students leaving school to enter the workplace.

“The words used in university and college course descriptions must be coded to be gender neutral to ensure potential students are not deterred before getting to the application stages.”

Glasgow Caledonian’s School of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment aims to recognise and celebrate the outstanding achievements of our female colleagues, exploring how we may work together to overcome some of the challenges in terms of advancing gender equalities.

The University is committed to advancing gender equality across all of its STEM subjects through activities developed to inspire future generations of women into rewarding careers in this area.

The University has been ranked fourth in the world for Gender Equality in the latest Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings and has already been formally recognised for its commitment to gender equality by attaining Advance HE’s Athena SWAN Institutional Silver Award, one of only two Scottish institutions to hold this accolade.