Wondering why mostly men or mostly women are applying for your company’s open positions. Look at the language in your job listings.

Chances are, the wording is more biased toward one gender than you realize. Without realizing it, we all use language that is subtly ‘gender-coded’.

What is bias?

Bias is when there is an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group. Often bias is unconscious – it tends to come from stereotypes, beliefs, attitudes and opinions we have but that we are unaware of.

Consider the word “ninja,” which increasingly appears in job descriptions in high tech. Among the listings on the employment-related search engine Indeed.com, usage of “ninja” increased nearly 400% between January 2012 and October 2016, according to the company’s Job Trends database tool. While the word may make the job sound exciting, it may also dissuade women from applying, as society tends to regard “ninja” as masculine. The word “dominant” rose by 65% in the same time period.

It’s unlikely that the world will stop associating certain words with certain genders anytime soon. Fortunately for employers looking to narrow the applicant-pool gender gap, there is a simple way to take the gender bias out of job listings: Simply rewrite them.

How Does Bias Affect Our Actions?

Our bias affects us and our decision-making processes in a number of different ways:

  • Perception – how we see people and perceive reality.
  • Attitude – how we react towards certain people.
  • Behaviors – how receptive/friendly we are towards certain people.
  • Attention – which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
  • Listening – how much we actively listen to what certain people say.
  • Micro-affirmations – how much or how little we comfort certain people in certain situations.

Removing Bias From Job Descriptions

Stereotyping and Gender

A crucial step in ensuring inclusive hiring practices is being aware that stereotypes play a role in inequity. For example, not all women are nurses – they can be engineers and a foreperson working on a construction site it is crucial to keep this in mind when writing job descriptions and not to write the advert using language directed towards a certain stereotype.

Another thing to be careful of is gendered title jobs. We still see jobs advertised as salesman, foreman and even midwife these should all be replaced with ‘person’ to make your job advert more gender friendly and appealing to both male & female.

Adjectives matter

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found job ads in male-dominated fields, such as software programming, tended to use masculine-themed words such as ‘lead’, ‘compete’ and ‘dominate’ at a much higher rate than job ads in female-dominated fields.

Importantly, the inclusion of such words meant that those job listings were less appealing to women.

Using gendered adjectives in your advertisements can inadvertently signal to particular people that they would not be a good fit within your organisation.

Examples of masculine words include:

  • ‘independent’
  • ‘lead’
  • ‘competitive’
  • ‘assertive’
  • ‘determined’
  • ‘analytical’

Examples of feminine words include:

  • ‘responsible’
  • ‘connect’
  • ‘dedicated’
  • ‘support’
  • ‘sociable’
  • ‘conscientious’

This site is a quick way to check whether a job advert has the kind of subtle linguistic gender-coding that has this discouraging effect. By implementing these changes it will give you the chance to build a better talent pool.