What discrimination do male applicants face? | Moorepay
February 24, 2023

What discrimination do male applicants face?

When should you rehire past employees

HR professionals are well versed in tackling gender stereotyping that places a female applicant at an unfair advantage. But do men who apply for roles in female-dominated occupations also face discrimination because of deep-rooted gender stereotypes?

According to a recent study, this could be the case.


Led by Dr Mladen Adamovic (Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and HR Management) at King’s College London, her recent study found that male applicants can face discrimination based on gender stereotypes.  

The study, involving more than 10,000 applications to approximately 4000 separate adverts, focused on vacancies in female-dominated occupations.  

Of those, the roles most listed were human resource management professional, receptionist, cleaner, waitstaff, administrator and sales assistant.  

The CV’s submitted as part of the study came from a broad range of applicants equally qualified and experienced for the roles in question. 

The study found male applicants were less successful in receiving a call back, attaining 40% fewer than their female comparators. Whilst its primary focus was the discrimination faced by male applicants, the study also found that they received 50% more call-backs than female applicants to vacancies in male-dominated occupations.  

Dr Adamovic termed the unequal distribution of men and women across different occupational categories as ‘occupational gender segregation’. 

Can employers discriminate based on sex when advertising a vacancy?

Yes. Employers can insist applicants possess a particular protected characteristic. But this will only be lawful when, having regard to the nature or context of the work, the requirement is:

  1. an ‘occupational requirement’;
  2. a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim; and
  3. The person to whom it is applied doesn’t meet it (or the employer has reasonable grounds to be satisfied that the person doesn’t meet the necessary requirement)

Whilst the Equality Act doesn’t define ‘occupational requirement’, the explanatory notes for the legislation cite examples of situations where it could be permissible to discriminate e.g. public changing room or lavatory attendant. However, those same examples should be read with caution as they demonstrate how employers can, realistically, only rely on an occupational requirement in the most exceptional circumstances.

What should employers be mindful of when advertising a vacancy?

Most employers will be familiar enough with the Equality Act to know the significant risks posed of posting an advert asking that only applicants of one sex need apply.  

But even where there has been no apparent intention to discriminate, decisions concerning the posting of an advert and later consideration of the gender of a suitable applicant – if any – can cause problems. 

Scotland’s Period Dignity Working Group – a government funded organisation working alongside councils and colleges –  found their recruitment practices coming under severe scrutiny this summer when it appointed a man to a leading role. 

Though the scope of the role was considered broad – requiring outstanding project management experience to deliver on the principles underpinned by legislation providing universal access to period products – central to it was the promotion of free period products and breaking down barriers around discussing menstruation.

Amidst a public backlash, Wimbledon champion Marina Navratilova told her Twitter followers that the appointment was, “f****** ridiculous”.  

Ian Blackford (SNP Leader at Westminster) also commented that it would be “far better that women are in these posts”. 

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About the author

Audrey Robertson

Employment Law Senior Manager, Audrey, has a strong background in HR, Employment Law and related insurances in a career spanning over 16 years leading teams in-house and as a consultant supporting clients across retail, education and the B2B sectors. At Moorepay, Audrey heads up the Employment Law team. With a strong commitment and investment in employee wellbeing, having studied counselling and coaching, Audrey is a qualified Mental Health First Aider and supports our staff on-site.

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