It is possible for gender bias to creep in – or sadly still even to be deliberately used – at every stage of the job recruitment process. Until recently, rather little attention was paid to the ways that language in job advertisements and recruitment descriptions can influence the gender of those who apply for jobs. If the initial advertisements used by technology companies put women off applying, it is not surprising that their numbers in the sector are low.
Commonsense suggests that the use of “he” or “his” in job descriptions is likely to send entirely the wrong message to women who might be interested in applying. Indeed, any potential employee should be cautious about applying to organisations whose culture still permits such usage. The biased use of language is much more subtle, though, than just exemplified in the use of masculine rather than neutral pronouns, and can reflect deep cultural resonances. A recent study thus found that the most commonly used male-gendered words in UK job descriptions were lead, analyse, competitive, active and confident, wheres the most common female gendered words were support, responsible, understanding, dependable and committed. The words we choose can send clear, but often subconscious, messages to those we are seeking to recruit, and vary significantly between cultures and languages.
It is not only the language of advertisements and job descriptions that can deter women from applying for jobs. Care needs to be taken in ensuring that structural biases are not introduced through the use of statements about inflexible working hours or expectations about travel requirements, unless these are essential for the job. Employers that offer flexible working arrangements are often seen as more desirable, especially by those women who wish to combine child- or elder-care responsibilities alongside a career.
The five good things to do, and the seven to avoid, listed below and available in .pdf format for downloading, are drawn from the wealth of material in the further information section below.
Five good things to do when writing job descriptions in the technology sector
- Always use gender-neutral words in job descriptions and titles
- Use gender-neutral pronouns (“you” or they”) when describing the ideal candidate.
- Limit the number of requirements to those that are most important for the job.
- Emphasise your commitment to diversity, flexibility and quality of life, especially with respect to working hours and travel requirements.
- Consider using tools such as Textio or Gender Decoder to identify potential problems with your word choice.
Seven things to avoid when writing job descriptions in the technology sector
- Using “he” in job description and titles.
- Using titles or words that tend to be considered as male-oriented such as “hacker” and “guru”, or “assertive” and “independent”
- Using male pronouns (“he”/“his”) when describing the ideal candidate.
- Using too many superlatives.
- Including too many unreasonable travel demands, unless these are essential for the role.
- Listing too many job requirements – are they really all necessary?
- Making no mention of your organisation’s values
This Guidance Note (first version February 2019) was prepared by Tim Unwin and is available for downloading (.pdf format) in ENGLISH here, na HRVATSKOM ovdje (translated by Sanja Cancar), po POLSKU tutaj (translated by Marcin Czubak), and en ESPAÑOL aquí (translated by Silvana Cordero).
Tools for checking whether your draft advert or job description might be gender biased:
Useful articles in popular media or online that focus on how to remove gender bias from job advertisements include:
- Adams, B. (2018) Are your job adverts gender-biased? Here’s 6 ways to check, Inc.
- Brooks, C. (2016) Want more job applicants? Use gender-neutral wording, Business News Daily.
- CIPHR (2017) Are your job ads gender biased, CIPHR.
- Glassdoor Team (2017) 10 ways to remove gender bias from job descriptions, Glassdoor.com.
- Kat Matfield (no date) Gender Decoder for Job Adverts,
- Kratz, G. (2017) 7 ways to remove gender bias in job ads, Flexjobs Employer Blogs
- Nobel, C.(2016) How to take gender bias out of your job ads, Forbes, HBS Working Knowledge.
- Selby Jennings (2018) How to avoid unconscious bias in job adverts, Phaidon International.
- Silverberg, D. (2018) Why do some job adverts put women off applying? BBC News.
- Snyder, K. (2016) Language in your job post predicts the gender of your hire, Textio.
- Totaljobs (2017) Totaljobs study revels that UK job adverts carry unconscious gender bias, Totaljobs.
- Undercover Recruiter (no date) How can job descriptions be more gender neutral?
- WISE (no date) Gender decoding your job adverts, WISE Campaign for Gender Balance in Science, Technology and Engineering
A short selection of some of the recent extensive academic research of relevance:
- Glaucher, D., Fiesen, J. and Kay, A.C. (2011) Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 109-28. doi: 10.1037/a0022530.
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