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Study Reveals Gender Differences in Self-Presentation Among Indian Job-Seekers on LinkedIn

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A recent study has highlighted significant gender differences in how Indian job-seekers present themselves on LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional networking platform. The study, published in Discover Psychology, provides valuable insights into the self-promotion strategies and emotional expressivity of men and women on LinkedIn profiles, shedding light on potential disparities in job search outcomes.

The study by Kanika K. Ahuja of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, examined the LinkedIn profiles of 669 recent MBA graduates, including 337 men and 332 women. The profiles were matched on industry, MBA graduation year, institute, age, experience, and geographic location to ensure comparability. The study focused on three main aspects of LinkedIn profiles: self-promotion metrics, the use of agentic and communal self-descriptors, and emotional expressivity in profile pictures.

The study found that men tend to self-promote more than women across various metrics. Men listed more skills, awards, and honours on their profiles compared to women. Additionally, the ‘about’ sections of men’s profiles were generally longer than those of women, indicating a greater tendency towards detailed self-description.

In terms of language use, men and women differed significantly in their choice of words. Women were found to use more communal words (such as supportive and caring) in their profiles, whereas there was no significant difference between men and women in the use of agentic words (such as assertive and ambitious). This pattern aligns with traditional gender roles, where women are expected to emphasise relational qualities, while men focus on assertiveness and competence.

Women displayed higher levels of emotional expressivity in their LinkedIn profile pictures than men. Women’s pictures were more likely to feature head canting and full smiles, which are behaviours associated with likeability and approachability. However, there was no significant difference between men and women regarding eye contact in their profile pictures.

These findings have important implications for understanding gender dynamics in professional self-presentation on social networking sites. The observed gender differences in self-promotion and emotional expressivity may place women at a disadvantage in job-seeking contexts, where self-promotion and assertiveness are often key to securing employment opportunities.

The tendency of women to under-promote their achievements and skills could be attributed to societal expectations and the “feminine modesty” effect, which discourages women from appearing too assertive or self-promotional. This behaviour may stem from a desire to avoid backlash for violating gender norms, which can negatively impact their perceived hireability.

Additionally, the study suggests that these gendered self-presentation styles might also have an impact on recruiters’ perceptions. Women’s use of communal language and higher emotional expressivity might lead recruiters to perceive them as less competent or less suitable for leadership roles, which traditionally require agentic qualities. This can result in unconscious bias during the hiring process, where male candidates may be favoured due to their more assertive self-presentation.

To address these disparities, the study recommends several strategies for both jobseekers and recruiters.

Women should be encouraged to adopt more self-promotional tactics and emphasise their achievements and skills more assertively in their LinkedIn profiles. This includes providing detailed descriptions in the ‘about’ section and listing all relevant skills, awards, and honours. Additionally, selecting professional and confident profile pictures rather than overly friendly or submissive ones, could help in presenting a more balanced professional image.

Organisations should be aware of the potential gender biases in self-presentation on LinkedIn and adjust their evaluation criteria accordingly. Instead of relying heavily on self-generated summaries and emotional expressivity cues, recruiters should focus on objective metrics of competence and performance. Implementing training programmes to reduce unconscious biases against women who self-promote can also contribute to more equitable hiring practices.

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