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How To Avoid Unconscious Bias in Job Adverts

Date: 19 April 2017

Job adverts are a key piece in every company’s hiring strategy and are a valuable tool for communicating your employer brand. The way a company represents themselves is their adverts can be a determining factor in the quality of candidates who apply for the advertised role.

However, studies have shown that adverts across many male-dominated industries included gendered language that deters female candidates from applying. This unconscious bias is often communicated unintentionally in the way adverts are written, and can negatively impact the diversity of the candidates for the role. The use of gendered language in adverts can undermine the implementation of a diverse hiring strategy, and affect the way a company’s employer brand is perceived. 

By consciously considering the language used in advert, and working towards using more gender neutral language, organisations can better avoid discrimination in the hiring process.

Gendered job adverts – the evidence

A study by the American Psychological Association in 2011 brought the idea of gendered job adverts into the media spotlight.[1] The research showed that words associated with masculine and feminine stereotypes could perpetuate gender inequality when used in job adverts. There is evidence that this is happening in the modern job market.

The findings showed that job adverts used in male-dominated sectors showed a greater use of words with male connotations such as ‘leader’, ‘competitive’ and ‘dominant’. No difference in feminine wording appeared across the sectors. The study also found that when more masculine wording was used in the advertisements, it was perceived by the potential applicant that more men worked in that sector. Masculine wording also made this sector less appealing for women, making them less likely to apply for jobs.

As we’ve recently mentioned on our blog: attraction, retention and advancement are the key pillars when it comes to improving diversity. This use of masculine language appears to be another barrier to attracting female candidates which should be overcome to promote inclusive hiring. Removing gender biased words from job descriptions can increase the number of applicants by 42%.[2]

The use of certain words which are skewed to specific genders has a tangible effect on who applies for the role, which contributes towards stagnant levels of diversity.

Some industries are worse than others

According to research, 70% of job listings across all industries contain masculine words.[3] Some industries are guiltier than others; Business is most often the worst, with 94% of descriptions written using gendered words in job ads. 92% of in Science and Engineering, and Technology fall foul of gendered language, while Finance and Insurance has 91% of descriptions featuring gendered wording. Considering that some sectors, such as STEM, are notorious for their lack of diversity, it is significant that these same industries have gender-bias descriptions.

The benefits of gender neutral language

Diversity is proven to help increase a business’ bottom line; it has been shown that having more women in business increases profits. Companies that have at least 30% female executives in their boardrooms make as much as 6% more profit than companies without women.[4]

Gendered language has an effect when it comes to attracting female candidates, it is important to use gender-neutral language to remove this barrier to women looking to enter these industries. Level the playing field and you’ll be one step closer to an inclusive hiring strategy, which will give you more suitably qualified candidates to choose from when it comes to picking the right person for the job.  

See the bigger picture

It’s important to understand that gendered language in a job advert has many different implications. While you might be pursuing a diversity strategy in other areas, your job adverts could be giving the impression that there are potential gender issues or imbalances in your office.

When it comes to increasing diversity in the workplace, attraction, retention and advancement are the three key touchpoints. A job advert is the very first stage in the process of attracting new staff, and it is important to make sure that your recruitment efforts do not exclude female candidates at the first hurdle.

The first step

The first step in establishing inclusive hiring practices is recognizing that existing gender stereotypes play a part in inequality. The second is taking measures to help circumvent this, from introducing more gender neutral language into your job adverts, to finding ways to advertise to a more diverse candidate base.

The biggest issue when recruiting more diverse candidates is often identifying the areas which are prohibitive before the recruitment process begins. You can then take active steps at all stages of the recruitment process to help your business hire more inclusively, as well as draw the greatest benefit from this diverse strategy.[5]

Translating your job ads

According to researchers from Technische Universität München, masculine words include:

  • ‘aggressive’
  • ‘independent’
  • ‘assertive’
  • ‘determined’
  • ‘analytical’

Feminine words include;

  • ‘responsible’
  • ‘dedicated’
  • ‘sociable’
  • ‘conscientious’

Once you’re aware of the unconscious bias in your language, then it’s important to ‘translate’ your adverts so that they feature more gender-neutral words. 

Studies have shown that many women won’t apply for a job they do not 100% qualify for, whereas men will apply for a position they feel they’re only 60% qualified for.[6] Give your job adverts a new lease of life by making sure they’re up to date as well as neutralizing any gender biased language. You may uncover talented candidates you might have otherwise missed.

Many diversity programs miss the subtle hints when looking to attract female candidates. Make sure your hiring strategy avoids these pitfalls and you might find more qualified CVs making their way onto your desk.

Are you looking to build a more inclusive hiring strategy? Get in touch today for a consultation about how we can help.


Tagged In: Selby Jennings
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