83

I often see "(m/f)" in the description of software developer jobs. Even in jobs in progressive countries like Germany, France or Switzerland.

I assume that m/f means "male or female".

I'm wondering:

  • Why specify that in the job title (isn't it obvious that both genders are welcome to apply to the job)?
  • Wouldn't that come off as discriminating towards people that do not identify as male or female?
  • 8
    I don't think it's always as obvious that women are welcome in IT since there are so few. I think it's a (bad) way to say "we aren't a boys only club". – Luggage Dec 20 '15 at 15:42
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    The Belgian Federal Government now even writes out positions with (m/v/x) in the title, so people who don't identify with either m/v know they can apply as well, and mark "x" as gender. – Konerak Dec 21 '15 at 9:47
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    This actually means "(male/female)"?!? I had always assumed it meant "Monday through Friday", as in "full time". Is this seriously something that indicates the gender for a job outside of performance art (where actual vs apparent gender isn't even the point) or maybe infantry? WOW! – zxq9 Dec 21 '15 at 15:37
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    @zxq9 Did you not take the time to read the answer that explains this is a legal requirement due to gendered nouns in the language itself? Think of the term "fireman" - we use "firefighter" nowadays. Some languages don't have those neutral words for all base words, so they put m/f to make it clear. – corsiKa Dec 21 '15 at 16:58
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    @zxq9 M-F could possibly mean "Monday through Friday", but not "m/f". – Brandin Dec 22 '15 at 14:18
154

German nouns (including job titles) have a grammatical gender.

A programmer for example would either be "Programmierer" (male version) or "Programmiererin" (female version). It has been common usage to take the male form when you mean both genders, but in recent years, feminism and European gender equality guidelines implemented as German laws (not saying that's a bad thing) have made it mandatory to make clear you mean both genders. So there are a few options in German:

  • Programmierer (m/w)

    (m/w) is for "männlich/weiblich" which means "male/female"

  • Programmierer oder Programmiererin

    Long form, just imagine that with a multi word title like director of operations or something

  • Programmierer(in)

    Abbreviation of long form.

  • Programmierer/in

    Another possible abbreviation of long form.

For IT jobs, Germany tends to use English names more often. Software Engineer for example. Now, appending something like (m/f) would be wrong, because Sotfware Engineer does not have a gender in English. However, once you use it in a German sentence, it will have to have a gender because that is how the German language works. Software Engineer for example will be male according to German grammar rules. Now to be safe, people append (m/w), or the English (m/f) to be consistent, because those 5 letters that can save you from a discrimination lawsuit.

Theoretically, there have been attempts to implement more fairness for those that feel they are neither male nor female, but it has not caught on. Maybe because biologically, it's quite hard to be neither and for those that are, a German law based on a European guideline that regulates job title grammatical genders is not actually on their most pressing problems list.


Updating for the latest developments:

As of October 10th 2017 the highest German court ruled that another gender identifier than just male and/or female must be allowed and people must not discriminate based on that just as they are not allowed to discriminate against people identifying as male or female.

Although the ruling does not specifically concern job ads, companies have picked it up and are now advertising as (m/f/x) or (m/f/d) or it's longer version longer (m/f/divers).

  • 21
    Same thing applies in french. A developper would be "développeur" or "développeuse" for male and female respectively. It's shorter to write "développeur web (H/F)" than "développeur/développeuse web". Some people may assume that the "masculine" version includes both, some may not. Including (H/F) makes it explicit. – jcaron Dec 20 '15 at 23:32
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    That, but also probably as a legal safety : like that, you're sure you can prove you're not discriminating. – gazzz0x2z Dec 21 '15 at 7:53
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    Same in Hebrew. Most common is the last option - עובד/ת, but many documents have a small disclaimer at the end, similar to This documents uses male for but applies equally to all genders. – Jonathan Dec 21 '15 at 15:41
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    Years ago in Belgium a brothel once got a complaint and changed a sign on the road so it read "Wanted: girls (m/f)" – Jan Fabry Dec 22 '15 at 11:11
17

The (m/f) can be seen even in Italy because in this language nouns have grammatical gender.

So Programmer is traslated to Programmatore (male) or Programmatrice (female) even if is common to use the male form even for the women who work in this environment.

14

As per this answer , its because German job titles are gendered, and m/f is just a translation artifact in many cases

8

The existing answers refer to linguistic arguments. However, a very similar suffix (m/v) is used in Dutch where the linguistic gender is purely theoretic. A quick search turned up that Dutch law requires such an addition, a law which is the implementation of Council Directive 79/7/EEC of 19 December 1978 on the progressive implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in matters of social security.

So obviously the German, French and Italian advertisements have to follow the same EU regulations.

  • This is the real answer imho. – WorksOdd Aug 24 '16 at 12:56
  • Does it mean that if I find a job position for the same company without m/f it is only allowed to men? Because I found Developer position with m/f but not for manager positions. That makes me think that I should avoid work at that company. – ccsakuweb May 11 '17 at 6:57
4

As to the "Wouldn't that come off as discriminating towards people that do not identify as male or female?"

Companies are interested in finding someone to do the job. Decent companies don't care about gender, skin colour, religion and so on as long as it doesn't interfere with the job.

If you don't identify as male or female, it's your choice to assume that this is a decent company that doesn't care about gender and apply and get the job, or don't get the job because someone else was better, or don't get the job because of illegal discrimination and sue them. Or you can assume that there is a conspiracy against you, clearly expressed by stating they accept male and female people. Now the simple fact is that if this company is run by decent people who would have had no problem accepting you, and you accuse them of discrimination when no such thing was ever intended, you are not making friends.

On the other hand, you are welcome to give a complete list of everything you would like added to "m/f" to not discriminate against anybody. And the longer the list, the more likely it is that you actually intend to discriminate against anyone not on the list.

  • 5
    Companies care a lot about their reputation and hiring is hard. Coming off as a discriminating workplace would be a turnoff for me (I'm a cisgender heterosexual (married) male). Here, it is common to write "The job listing is written in male tense, but it applies to all genders equally" (vs the older "both genders"). – Benjamin Gruenbaum Dec 22 '15 at 15:34

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