Many businesses struggle with attracting talent. One way that companies miss out on qualified applicants is by attracting more male than female candidates, or vice versa. While society has come a long way in creating more gender equality, there are still many professions that are male-dominated (like engineering and computer programming) and female-dominated professions (like teaching and nursing). According to Randstad’s 2016 Workplace Trends Report, “the inadequate supply of qualified and skilled talent is the second biggest threat to companies’ ability to meet revenue or business performance targets.” In order for your business to keep up with the competition and thrive among your competitors, you must appeal to your entire pool of talent, and that means both men and women.
How to Identify Gender Bias in Job Descriptions
Gender bias in job descriptions is a common issue that may cause you to miss out on qualified candidates. In the recruiting process, it goes without saying that companies should do whatever it takes to screen candidates in an unbiased manner. But if you find that some of your job openings are attracting a shortage of men or women even before the interview process begins, there may be language creating gender bias in your job descriptions that you aren’t even aware of. You may not be directly or intentionally excluding one gender in your job descriptions (which is illegal), but there are certain verbs and adjectives that have been found to be naturally more appealing to men, and others that are more naturally appealing to women. So how do you find out what gender job descriptions at your company are geared towards?
Danielle Gaucher and Justin Frieser, social scientists at the University of Waterloo, did a couple of interesting research studies around gender bias in job descriptions. Their research examined how male gendered words in job descriptions discourage female job seekers from applying to certain positions they are otherwise qualified for. The scientists first came up with a list of male and female coded words. They then searched online job advertisements and found that occupations that are male-dominated tend to use more male-coded words, and female-dominated occupations use more female-coded words.
There has already been research that concluded the differences in the linguistic styles of men and women. Women generally use a more communal style of speech and are more drawn to words such as “cooperate”, “interpersonal” and “pleasant”. Masculine-gendered words tend to be more associated with power, such as “independent”, “determine” and “dominate”. Gender bias in job descriptions exists when there is a majority of male-coded or female-coded words. While these words may be associated with male and female stereotypes (i.e. men being stronger and women more emotional), the study found nevertheless that when male-coded language is used in job descriptions women subconsciously lack a sense of belonging at the organization (and vice versa for men when there is female-coded language used). This can have a domino effect, impacting the way people perceive the job and behave in the workplace.
Avoiding Gender Bias
To avoid gender bias in job descriptions, rewrite your job descriptions to include more neutral words or a better balance of female and male-coded words. For example, a sentence that is male-dominated in a job description would be “Self-sufficient analyst needed with the ability to take decisive action under challenging circumstances.” An example of a similar sentence in female-coded language would be “Dependable analyst needed with the ability to respond quickly in situations involving sensitive matters.” Also, ask yourself if you really need all the requirements that are listed in the job description. It’s likely that some of the requirements have wording that is likely to turn off qualified groups of applicants and are doing more harm than good.
This may sound like a tedious effort, but employers are in luck. There are easy-to-use software tools available such as the Gender Decoder for Job Ads that identify gender-coded words in your job descriptions. Or you can enlist the help of comprehensive data-driven consulting and workshops that companies like ParadigmIQ offer, which help your company identify unconscious bias and become more diverse and inclusive. While solutions such as these may not do all the work for you, they can help you begin to develop an idea of the right language you can use to reduce gender bias in your job descriptions and attract a more diverse pool of job applicants.
Author: Jessica Cody
Jessica Cody, a native of Fairfield County, Connecticut, has a background in online marketing and public relations. Currently, she works at VHMNetwork LLC in the role of Marketing Analyst. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, where she studied Journalism and Political Science. She is also an avid runner with a passion for the outdoors.