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Gender Discrimination and Bias in Job Descriptions
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Talent Development

Are Your Job Descriptions Driving Away Talent with Unconscious Gender Bias?

Do you believe job descriptions can be sexist? Can the words we choose to describe jobs send the wrong message to candidates?

Language is a powerful tool and even when we are aware and cautious of that power, it’s still possible to wield it incorrectly.

Fortunately, there are techniques and tools to keep us in check.

What is bias in job descriptions?

The improper use of language often shows up in job descriptions and employment related documentation. This can not only deprive you of qualified candidates, it can potentially place you in legal jeopardy. That’s why it’s important to understand what gender bias in job descriptions is and how you can avoid it.

What are examples of gender biases?

To understand where we are, it’s important to look at where we’ve been. Not long ago, the business world was completely male-dominated. Executive suites, corner offices and mid-to-upper-management positions were simply out of reach for women. For example, in 1980, no women held top executive ranks of the Fortune 100. (Center for American Progress)

Slowly but surely, measures like the 19th Amendment, the Equal Pay Act and, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came into place helping women to break free from the socially constructed obstacles that had been impeding their upward mobility.

While there has been progress, we still haven’t achieved gender-equality in the workplace. Today, only 15 percent of CEOs at fortune 500 companies are female (World Economic Forum).  

How does gender inequality affect business?

Gender equality isn’t just a lofty goal to aspire to, it has a real impact on the bottom line. Companies with at least 30% female leaders had net profit margins up to 6% points higher than companies with no women in the top ranks. (The Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY)

McKinsey & Company have reported:

  • In the US, women comprise only 16% of executive teams.
  • 97% of US companies have executive teams that fail to meet gender demographics of the labor force and population.

Recruiting Plays a Major Role in Gender Equality

Recruiters and other hiring professionals are the driving force behind building greater gender equality in the workplace through their hiring practices. Of course, their first priority is selecting the best candidate for the job but that’s difficult to do when the best candidates may be driven away before ever applying.

Understanding the Language of Gender Bias

Professors from the University of Waterloo and Duke conducted several studies examining how male gendered words in job descriptions impact the willingness of females to apply.

The study determined showed that job descriptions featuring language described as being masculine significantly deterred women from applying to those respective jobs. For example, in the case of a nurse position, when the job description contained words associated with being masculine, subjects perceived the role to be for a male candidate.

When a job description with words described as being more feminine were shown to a male subject, this seemed to have no impact on their sense of belonging in the role or the general appeal of the job. Males were just as likely to apply for female-coded jobs as females were

What does that type of language look like? Here are some examples:

Masculine-Coded WordsFeminine-Coded Words

How does gender bias in job descriptions affect the workplace?

Gendered job descriptions alter perception, which lowers job appeal, a sense of belonging and the likelihood to even apply.

You know the saying, “perception is reality?” Women who do not perceive themselves filling roles in masculine-gendered job descriptions are far less likely to apply.

Studies have found that on average, women only apply to a job if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men will apply if they meet 60% of the qualifications. Add into this equation the fact that job descriptions may be signaling to women that they are not right for the role and this only serves as a further deterrent to applying.

Is there more to the description than a description?

Beyond just the individual role, male gendered job descriptions can serve as a signifier of the overall company culture. Job descriptions often form a candidate’s first impression about your company, and when your job description has a gender bias, this can signify that your workplace does as well.

How do you write a gender-neutral job description?

No matter how “aware” of your language you might be, it’s completely possible to fall into an unconscious gender bias. Thankfully there are programs available to help you ensure a gender-neutral job description.

  • With the Gender Decoder for Job Ads simply paste your job description into the tool and it will identify all of your gender-coded words, as well as let you know if your job is masculine-coded or feminine-coded.
  • Textio is another tool that helps identify gender discrimination using machine learning. This program helps optimize your job descriptions for attracting the best candidate pool.
  • MS Word also has a range of bias-related filters that you can turn on. These can help give you some basic guidance as to if your writing is skewed towards any specific group.

Educate your team about unconscious gender discrimination in job descriptions

Recognizing that unconscious gender bias exists is the first step to solving it. Take this information to your hiring team so that they can identify and eliminate unconscious gender discrimination in your organization’s job descriptions.

What’s the next step?

This is a critical topic and we’ve only scratched the surface. Removing gender bias from the workplace won’t happen overnight but what’s important is that it does happen. And it will only do that through awareness and effort.

In all issues like this, we can never stop listening, learning, and working toward building a diverse, equal, and inclusive environment.

Visit Perspectives+ to find free resources and tools that promote DE&I best practices in the workplace.” Perspectives+ is Paycor’s online knowledge library designed to help you drive change, empower colleagues and foster new leaders.