Your company, like most organizations, is no doubt compliant with federal and state legislation that prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees based on gender. However, an article from Glassdoor (10 Ways to Remove Gender Bias from Job Descriptions) warns that certain words commonly used in job announcements and descriptions could be deterring or attracting candidates based on their gender. The most qualified candidates may not be applying for your open positions because they are unconsciously dissuaded by the language in your job announcements and descriptions.
Several studies have shown that many common words used in job descriptions have male or female associations. Professors from the University of Waterloo and Duke conducted extensive research examining how male gendered words in job descriptions impact the willingness of females to apply. In one study half of a group of 96 participants were shown job descriptions for plumber, retail sales manager and registered nurse using masculine-oriented wording, and job descriptions for engineer, administrative assistant and real estate agent using feminine-oriented wording. The gendered wording of the job descriptions was flipped for the other half of participants, so this group was shown job descriptions for engineer, real estate agent and administrative assistant using masculine-oriented wording and job descriptions for plumber, retail sales manager and registered nurse using feminine-oriented wording.
The findings of this study paint a vivid picture of how masculine gendered wording can perpetuate gender inequality and division in the workplace. The study revealed that masculine worded job descriptions significantly deterred women from applying to those jobs regardless of whether the job was stereotypically male, female or gender neutral. For example, in the case of the nurse position, when the job description contained male gendered words, subjects perceived the role to be for a male candidate. Both male and female participants perceived men fulfilling the roles in job descriptions that contained male gendered wording. (For more details about this study, see Are You Driving Away Qualified Candidates with Unconscious Gender Discrimination in Your Job Descriptions? from Newton Applicant Tracking Systems.)
Word association is an inevitable aspect of language. Certain words can conjure up other words, images and feelings, and some of these words link to gender. Recruiting content writer Rachel Blakely-Gray (Is Gender-Biased Language Creeping into Your Job Descriptions?) highlights some examples of gender-charged words associated with masculinity and femininity:
Masculine-oriented wording tends to dissuade female applicants, while feminine-oriented wording discourages male applicants. This does not mean that men necessarily lack the ability to be supportive or collaborative, nor that women can’t be competitive rockstars. However, based on data on the kinds of jobs men and women apply for, studies indicate that gender biased words matter.
If you’re concerned that your job announcements and description reflect unconscious gender bias, here are some ideas to help alleviate the issue:
Use gender neutral titles in job descriptions. Replace words in your titles like “hacker,” “rockstar,” “superhero,” “guru” and “ninja” with more neutral, descriptive titles like “engineer,” “project manager” or “developer.”
Avoid or moderate your use of gender-charged words. Identify problem spots in your word choices. Examples: “Analyze” and “determine” are typically associated with male traits, while “collaborate” and “support” are considered female. Avoid aggressive language like “crush it.”
Utilize technology. There are several tools readily available to tackle the issue of gender discrimination in job descriptions.
- The Gender Decoder for Job Ads is a free, ready-to-use tool that allows you to check for linguistic gender-coding. Paste your job description into the tool to identify your gender-coded words.
- Textio (paid service) uses machine learning to help you optimize your job descriptions to attract the best candidate pool. It features a comprehensive tone meter that indicates whether your job is more masculine or feminine-coded and gives you real-time advice for how to attract more diverse applicants to your job description.
Educate your team about unconscious gender bias. Make your hiring team aware of unconscious gender discrimination so they can identify and eliminate unconscious gender bias in your company’s job ads and descriptions. Consider having a gender diverse panel review job announcements and descriptions for potential gender bias.
Limit the number of requirements. Identify which requirements are “nice to have” versus “must have.” Research shows that women are unlikely to apply for a position unless they meet close to 100% of the requirements, while men will apply if they meet only 60%.
Express your commitment to equality and diversity. Candidates want to know they’ll be welcome in your culture before they make the effort to apply. Including an equal opportunity employer statement at the end of your job description lets candidates know that you welcome and promote diversity in your workplace.
One of the most interesting findings of the University of Waterloo and Duke studies was that participants were not consciously aware of the presence of gendered language. When asked which factors affected their perceptions of job ads, no one mentioned wording. This result reinforces the idea that gender discrimination in job announcements and descriptions is unconscious. If you want to recruit the best candidate for the job, regardless of gender, you need to ensure that gender-charged language is eliminated from your job announcements and descriptions.