Making diversity a priority in the workplace is an obvious moral obligation. However, it also comes with fiscal benefits. A Boston consulting group survey in 2018 found that companies with above-average diversity outperformed their less-diverse peers, producing greater revenue from innovation by 45%. The 2020 Mckinsey report, “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters” also found that diverse companies were more likely to enjoy greater profitability overall.
The modern recruiter is well aware of all this. That is why HR teams everywhere are working to mitigate bias in their hiring process as a whole. And that begins with the job posting.
The job description is a potential candidate's very first impression of an employer. Biased language in the description may well discourage a perfectly qualified candidate from applying. That means you’re losing talent right out of the gate.
That’s why today we’re going to explore examples of biased terms in job positions to help you build a more inclusive hiring process where it matters – at the beginning.
Bias Language in Job Descriptions
It’s important to note that biased language in job descriptions isn’t typically deliberate. Rather, it’s a product of implicit bias. This form of bias is unconscious. That’s why writing unbiased job descriptions is so difficult. So, the solution to this unconscious problem is a conscious approach to inclusive language.
The first step is recognizing the types of bias that could present themselves in your job description. These include racial, religious, age, affinity, and gender bias.
Racial bias is the most obvious. Nonetheless, racially charged language is still prominent in many job descriptions. Those employers aren’t taking the time to consider the connotations of the language they use. They’re left wondering why their workforce is so homogenious and haven’t yet considered that they are inadvertently discouraging diverse candidates from even applying.
The same can be said for all types of bias. Gendered language favors one side of the gender-normative spectrum. Ageist language favors specific age groups. The list goes on, and it takes awareness to correct.
Examples of Gendered Language in Job Descriptions
So, to help develop this awareness, let’s first take a look at some obvious (and not so obvious) examples of gendered language in job descriptions
- Gender-specific pronouns - Using “he” and “she” in your job description inherently favors one or the other. It also excludes the more than 1 million nonbinary adults in the US. Rather, consider using the neuter pronoun of “they/them” when rhetorically referring to the applicant in your job description.
- Mr/Mrs - Similar to gender-specific pronouns, titles such as Mr or Mrs favor a single gender. Either use a gender-neutral title or exclude these titles from your hiring process entirely.
- Gendered job titles - Waitress, salesman, stewardess – All of these titles denote not only a person’s profession but their gender as well. As such, using these in a job description loses appeal one way or the other. Use neutral titles such as waiter, salesperson, or flight attendant instead.
- Adjectives with gendered connotations - Some gender-biased words are less obvious than others. According to a University of Waterloo and Duke University study, many words are coded by gender. Typically male-coded adjectives in job descriptions include strong, competitive, and aggressive while female-coded words include nurturing, sympathetic and considerate. In a recent study from Appcast, a recruitment advertising company, removing these types of words can increase applications by 30%.
- Superlatives - Excessive superlatives such as “top-notch” or “expert” in a job description favor male candidates over female. According to research from Michigan State University, this is because women are less likely to brag about accomplishments.
- Excessive requirements - According to a Hewlett Packard internal report, women are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t match 100% of the listed requirements. Contrast this with men, who will often apply if they meet just 60% of requirements. As such, a long list of requirements may hinder your talent pool and diversity.
- Degree-specific requirements - Many employers are looking for candidates with specific degrees. However, many degree programs vary by gender. So, when you’re writing a job description, consider if an exact degree is strictly necessary. Moreover, consider if a degree is necessary at all. Perhaps the role could be filled by someone with work experience or certificates in place of a formal degree. You may be limiting your candidate pool.
These are only a handful of gender bias examples to watch out for. Once you’ve covered these, you can take gender-neutral job descriptions a step further by promoting diversity as part of your company culture in the job description. Expressing a commitment to these values will help combat gender bias in job descriptions and encourage everyone to apply equally.
Other Examples of Biased Language
Biased language by no means ends at gender. For every potential bias, there are words and phrases that follow. Although we may not think about it, those it affects do. So, here are some other examples of biased language commonly found in job descriptions.
- “Clean-shaven” - This phrase is often used by employers expecting a “professional appearance.” However, implying that clean-shaven is a requirement excludes those who do not shave on religious grounds. Many religions, including Islam, sects of Judaism, and Sikhism, explicitly forbid hair cutting or beard shaving.
- “Cultural Fit”- Although you may mean this phrase to refer to your company culture, those outside of your geographic culture may find it forbidding. Consider using a phrase such as “aligned values” instead.
- “Native English Speaker” - This phrase immediately excludes everyone that learned English as a second language regardless of their skill. Rather, ask for English proficiency. This is more inclusive to bilingual candidates that speak English at an advanced level.
- “Energetic” or “Seasoned” - Both of these words have an age connotation. Energetic typically refers to young candidates whereas seasoned implies older. Either way, you’ll limit your candidate pool to a certain age range when you use such terms.
- “Similar background” - This is similar to “cultural fit.” However, it also comes with an affinity bias. So, not only do you exclude those of diverse racial backgrounds with this phrase, you exclude those that feel they don’t come from the right socio-economic background.
- “Strong” - We briefly mentioned strong as a gender-coded word. However, when it comes to manual labor, it becomes ability biased.
- “Digital Native” - This phrase typically refers to those born in the 80s and afterward, the generation that grew up during the digital revolution of the 90s onward. As such, it is exclusionary to those born earlier.
- “No more than X years of experience” - Limiting the years of experience indicates a desire for older candidates. Regardless if this is what is intended, candidates may well read it as such.
- “Must be able to walk/Stand” - Another example of ability bias, this phrase is explicitly discouraged by ADA guidelines as it inherently excludes those unable to walk.
The list can go on for a great deal longer than this, but you get the idea by now. Ttake particular care in writing your job description to avoid such language. Refer to ADA guidelines for writing compliant job descriptions for help creating more inclusive job postings.