https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2017/09/29/gender-and-language-in-blog-posts/

Gender and language in blog posts

People in a meeting room

We’ve blogged before about language and gender. We’ve found that removing masculine words and gender coding from job adverts has a huge effect on applications from women. This got us thinking, how gendered is the PDS blog?

Tone of voice

On the PDS blog we aim for a tone of voice that’s open, confident, knowledgeable, professional, and friendly. We also try to be clear and focused when we’re talking about our work. While we work hard to strike the right tone for our audience, we wanted to investigate whether our push for plain English is making the blog gender inclusive.

Women’s language vs men’s language

Language and gender is a complicated issue. There are many theories about how gender manifests itself in speech and writing. There seems to be a general agreement that you can identify the following features more frequently in ‘masculine’ language:

  • shorter sentences
  • direct commands
  • quantitative references
  • fewer adjectives and adverbs

In ‘feminine’ language you tend to see:

  • adverbs and descriptive language
  • longer sentences
  • cautious words (just, might, perhaps)
  • questioning

We encourage colleagues to write in plain English for clarity and accessibility. But plain English means: short sentences, active verbs and straightforward language. Are we therefore asking authors to write like men?

Who our contributors are

We’ve published around 200 blog posts since 2014. There's almost 50:50 split between male and female authors (a few were written by teams). The posts cover a range of topics and both groups write frequently.

Women are more likely to write about strategy and recruitment and men on delivery and data so we need to do more to get better representation across PDS.

Who our readers are

Google Analytics shows that our overall audience is 70% male. This suggests that we should be doing more to be inclusive, especially if we want to encourage more women to work with us in digital.

The voice of PDS

We used the same gender decoding software we use to analyse job ads to assess the language of all posts published in 2017 (that’s over 100 at the time of writing).

Here’s what we found:

  • just over 36% of posts were strongly feminine-coded, using more words that are stereotypically feminine than words that are stereotypically masculine
  • nearly 32% of posts were feminine-coded
  • more than 18% of posts were masculine-coded (interestingly, this included our post on International Women’s Day).

The following 7 posts (about 11% of the total) were gender neutral:

Members are users too
Our second Parliament, democracy and data meetup
Our blogging resolutions for 2017
A new website for Parliament
What constituency staff told us
Three cyber security mistakes I never knew I was making
Flexible working is smart working

Only 3% (2 posts) were strongly masculine-coded (one from a man, one by a woman).

For PDS, our most common masculine-coded words are:

  • analyst
  • driven
  • lead
  • objective
  • challenge

The most frequently used feminine-coded words are:

  • together
  • collaborative
  • share
  • connected
  • response

Striking a gender balance

This has been an interesting exercise. It’s shown that while plain English encourages us to use typically masculine traits in our writing, context is everything as, perhaps unexpectedly, our plain English posts still appear more feminine coded. Of course, we’ll always aim to be gender inclusive and make sure we’re meeting the needs of all of our readers.

We want to present a diverse range of voices from within the organisation, but are we doing enough to strike a gender balance? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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