I watched the first episode of Hilary Devey's Women at the Top on iPlayer earlier (available here for another week or so), in which Hilary tried to get to the bottom of why there are so few women in top management positions.
A (male) recruitment consultant highlighted the gender bias in job advertisements. He said that phrases such as 'exceptional individual' and 'must have gravitas' in an ad deter women from applying, as women tend not to describe themselves as 'exceptional'. He also said that if you ask ordinary people what sort of word 'gravitas' is, some people will say it is a neutral word, some people will say it is a masculine word, but nobody ever says it is a feminine word.
The programme included an experiment where the same job - that of chief financial officer - was advertised in two different ads, which used a different style of language. One ad used 'tough' language, and included phrases such as 'a demanding job', 'relentless focus' and 'outstanding leader', while the other used 'softer' language, such as 'engage with people at all levels' and 'make a significant contribution'. The second advertisement appealed more to three women all currently on the books of a recruitment agency.
The recruitment consultant said that not only are women put off applying for senior positions because of the language used in the ads, but should they apply and get as far as being invited for interview, they will probably be interviewed by selectors who have a stereotypical picture in their mind of a person 'with gravitas' or someone with 'relentless focus', and it's probably a man. The women, therefore, will probably be overlooked at the interview.