The word “lead” seems harmless enough, right? I use it all the time.

But, lead is a “masculine-themed” word, according to a study of job ads by the University of Waterloo and Duke University (Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, Aaron C. Kay).

What do they mean by a “masculine” word? The study opens with this key finding:

“When job advertisements were constructed to include more masculine than feminine wording, participants perceived more men within these occupations, and importantly, women found these jobs less appealing.”

Don’t kill me, you “LEAD”ing ladies!

Don’t kill the messenger (me).

It’s not that the study is saying that women can’t lead or make great leaders. Duh, check out these top female leaders currently in power:

What the study is saying is that as a marketing cohort (marketing speak for target audience), women apply to jobs at a lower rate (than men) when masculine words like “lead” are used in a job ad.


What’s this mean for you recruiters?

Bad News — There are 1 million+ instances of “lead” in job postings on LinkedIn and Indeed. This is much higher than any other of the study’s”masculine-coded” words.

Good News — If you can remove the word “lead” from your job ads, and replace it with a gender-neutral synonym, you will attract more women.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of synonyms for lead ( has 200).

But who has time to peruse 200?

Here are 5 synonyms for “lead” (in bold) that you can use in your job descriptions (with example verbiage):

  1. guide and coach a global team (instead of “lead and coach a global team”)
  2. manage and resolve account escalations (instead of “lead and resolve account escalations”)
  3. run hiring and staff training (instead of “lead hiring and staff training”)
  4. head up the sales programs (instead of “lead the execution of sales programs”)
  5. steer sales budget planning (instead of “lead sales budget planning”)


Other Gender Neutral Synonym Examples

“Lead” is not the only masculine-coded word we find frequently in job descriptions. Here are 9 others: 


  • strong
  • analysis — includes analyze and analytical
  • individual(s)
  • decisions(s)
  • driven
  • competitive
  • expert
  • objectives
  • principles


Feminine-coded words are also proven to decrease applications per job by 10% (and increase CPA (cost per application) by 26%).  Here are 10 of the most used in job postings:


  • support
  • share
  • responsible
  • understand (or understanding)
  • together
  • committed
  • interpersonal
  • feel
  • collaborate (or collaboration)
  • connect

If you want to swap these gender-coded words for a gender neutral synonym, Ongig’s software automates the process for you: 


You can also check out this list of 170 Gender Neutral Adjectives for guidance.


Why am I sharing this?

I run Ongig and we are on a mission to eliminate boring and biased job descriptions. If you want to remove gender-biased words like “lead” (as well as other exclusionary words) from your job descriptions, please request Ongig’s Text Analyzer Demo.

by in Diversity and Inclusion