How Can Job Descriptions Be More Gender Neutral?

Langauge within job descriptions is an issue, whether we realize it or not. You put up a job ad but get 90% male applicants. This is because the wording you have used is aimed at males only.

We need to take far more care and spend far more time on our job ads so they are not uninclusive of not only a specific gender but of specific age, race, culture and more. So we ask our panel of recruiting experts to assess the possibility of removing bias from job descriptions.

Angela Bortolussi

A few years ago I sat with my hiring manager, a Director of Engineering, and he said “Angela, I asked my wife to review the job description for our Front End Engineering role – she is also a Front End Engineer, and she told me ‘I wouldn’t apply for this role.’”

He of course asked her “Why?” She mentioned the job description had so many hard stops in terms of qualifications. For example, you must have 8+ years of experience, React experience is a must, and a Computer Science Degree is a must. She felt that she was somewhat qualified but didn’t have the exact qualifications needed for the role, and ultimately wouldn’t attempt applying.

He decided to take this into consideration and re-write the job description to become more gender neutral to hopefully increase the attention of women applying. (Guess what? It worked!)

Keep in mind though it’s a tough to really understand the thought-process when it comes to candidates applying for roles. Whatever the reason is, I think we (women) respond to job ads/posts differently.

Angela Bortolussi, Partner, Recruiting Social.

Rebecca Fraser

It is quite interesting how some words can be perceived as being more attractive depending on your gender. Removing gender specific words, an example may be he or she and Chairman or Chairwoman. This is challenging in some languages where they have grammatical gender and this may require job adverts and job titles to specifically confirm that they are being offered to all genders. Other language could be seen as more attractive to the male gender, such as describing the work environment as fast paced and challenging, or dominant and determined. Although many females will be attracted to this environment, research has shown that these words can be perceived as being about a male dominated work environment.

Rebecca Fraser, National Executive Committee, Career Development Association of Australia.

Lysha Holmes

It is essential that a job description is written as a narrative to the potential employee regardless of gender. Avoid assumptions, focus on skills and attitude, potential and opportunity rather than a “person” per se and therefore stereotypes can be avoided. This should include imagery used to promote any post on social media.

Lysha Holmes, Owner and Recruiter, Qui Recruitment R2R.

Caroline Stokes

Sometimes I see masculine language used in a male oriented environment, which can be significantly off-putting to female talent. On the other side, I’ve seen female oriented companies not create gender neutral language, and it’s off-putting for me as a woman to see how men would not be inclined to join their mission. I encourage everyone to review the job descriptions to ensure they relate to the culture and make the company approachable for all genders.

Caroline Stokes, Founder, FORWARD and The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter.

Ruth Penfold

There are great tools for this kind of thing now, the most common one people use is Textio. If you don’t have access to those tools, I would suggest relying on the network of people around you to act as editors and give you their honest take on this stuff. Relative Insight conducted some research into this space, and using more feminine language was proven not to put off men, in the same way that masculine language can put off women. They looked at this across political campaigns, but the same is true across all mediums. Therefore by targeting your language more towards a female audience, you will find yourself appealing to a more gender neutral audience.

Ruth Penfold, Director of Talent Acquisition, Shazam.

Liz Sebag-Montefiore

Focus on job titles, job descriptions and advertisements that are free from unconscious bias and reflect best practice. Women may be deterred from applying in response to job descriptions that are heavy with masculine coded language. Try to remove the need for gendered pronouns, ensure that content has a universal appeal.

Research shows that women won’t apply for a job they do not 100% qualify for, whereas men will apply when they feel they’re only 60% qualified for. Try to convey that there is room for negotiation around the qualifications and experience required so returning mothers are not excluded.

Liz Sebag-Montefiore,  Director and Co-Founder, 10Eighty.

Libby Herrmann

Word choice is key to making job descriptions more gender neutral. Science and psychology have shown that feminine language is more communal, social and emotional versus contrasting masculine language. For example, using words such as “committed” (feminine) compared to “determined” (its masculine counterpart).

If we are taking care to ensure a job advertisement appeals to applicants of all genders, we are likely to be more inclusive and less “stereotypically traditional” in whom we attract. There are helpful decoding tools available online to identify and remove gender bias in job advertisements – explore, search, discover!

Libby Herrmann, Client Relationship Manager, WilsonHCG.

Poonam Mawani

Job descriptions are so important. They are the first impression of a company’s culture. There is software available now that can remove and replace gendered descriptions and words. There are certain phrases that can either attract more men or women. These should be identified and replaced to attract a more balanced candidate pool. How a firm describes itself in a job description is also important.

Poonam Mawani, Director, Azuki Accounts.

Amanda Bell

Luckily, this can be pretty easy. Review your job descriptions with the lens of “Who is the audience here?” If your answer is “any qualified candidate, regardless of gender,” you’ve done a good job! It’s not just about the presence of gender-specific pronouns – it’s also about using language that is inclusive of all genders. Stay away from phrases like “kick ass,” “ninja,” and, believe it or not, “brah.” You can also ask a few employees of various genders to read the descriptions and solicit feedback.

Amanda Bell, Director of Recruiting, Lever.


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