14 min read

4 Tips To Eliminate Job Description Gender Bias and Improve Your Hiring

The benefits of gender diversity in the workplace are undeniable. It’s proven to increase revenue, improve employee retention, and enhance innovation. Yet, an organization cannot achieve diversity if its job descriptions don’t set them up for success. 

Language significantly impacts whether or not a job seeker identifies with a role, which influences whether or not they apply — particularly for female job seekers.  

In this article, we’ll discuss the impact of gender bias in the workplace, along with how to differentiate between gender-skewed and gender-neutral job descriptions. We’ll also provide four tips to remove job description gender bias, so you can ensure you’re not turning talented people away with your job ads.

What is gender bias in the workforce?

Gender bias is the conscious or unconscious inclination to favor one gender over another. 

This often includes attributing attitudes and stereotypes to specific genders and allowing these assumptions to influence your decision-making. 

Gender inequality continues to be problematic in the workforce. Consider the following statistics:

When looking specifically at the hiring process, gender bias refers to selecting a candidate based on their gender rather than looking at their skills and suitability for the role. This is most often experienced during the screening and interview phases.

[Read more: Unconscious Bias Examples To Be Aware of at Your Organization]

Gender inequality in the workforce
In 2022, women still aren’t receiving equal opportunity in the workforce, including equal pay, career progression, and opportunities

Gender-biased vs. gender-neutral job descriptions

Despite women facing adversity at many stages of their career — including pay, opportunities, and progression — gender bias begins at the start of the recruitment process, with the language used to sell the role. 

While often unconscious, language has gendered associations that influence whether or not a candidate feels their skills align with the requirements and expectations of the role. 

Collier & Zhang conducted an analysis using Textio — an augmented writing tool that helps organizations write inclusive and gender-neutral copy — and found that the following gendered words are commonly used in job listings: 

  • Masculine words: Ambition, driven, lead, persist, decision, superior, assertive, strong, Silicon Valley, takes risks, autonomous, competitive. 
  • Feminine words: Thoughtful, creative, adaptable, collaborate, curious, flexible, multitasking, imaginative, intuitive, resilient, self-aware, socially responsible, wellness program, nurture, teach, community, serving, loyal, enthusiasm, support, connect, commit. 

With this insight into gender-skewed words, consider the following job descriptions:

Gender biased job descriptions vs gender-neutral job description
Comparing a gender-biased vs gender-neutral job description

The impact of job description gender bias

As gender diversity is proven to improve a company’s bottom line, boost innovative thinking, improve customer connection and resonance, and improve staff retention, the flip side can have significant consequences. 

Here are three ways gender-biased job descriptions can negatively impact your organziation…

1. Reduces workplace diversity

Gender-biased job descriptions are more likely to reduce workplace diversity by creating barriers for certain genders. 

With a lack of diversity, companies can’t benefit from the various perspectives, collaboration, and innovation that come with a gender-balanced workplace. 

In fact, one study of more than 1,000 firms across 35 countries and 24 industries concluded that companies with greater gender diversity experienced better productivity

[Read more: How To Prevent Unconscious Bias From Ruining Your Culture and Diversity]

2. Impacts brand reputation

With the fight for top-tier job seekers being so fierce in today’s candidate short market, brand reputation is more important than ever. 

Particularly since 50% of candidates admit they wouldn’t work for an organization with a poor reputation, even if it meant they’d receive a pay increase, according to Better Team.

It’s vital for organizations to be aware of their brand position and how candidates perceive their stance on social and cultural issues. 

A Glassdoor survey identified that 67% of candidates assess a company’s workplace diversity when considering a job offer. This means a lack of diversity may reduce desirability and job appeal, deterring candidates from applying.  

Why brand reputation matters
According to a Betterteam study, 50% of candidates admit they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation, even if it meant more money

3. Limits your applicant pool

This one’s straightforward: the more gender-skewed your language is (i.e., masculine-worded job descriptions), the more likely you are to eliminate a large portion of your potential talent pool. 

As a result, there’s no guarantee you’re sourcing the best candidate for the role if you’re discouraging certain genders from applying from the get-go. 

[Read more: The Top 5 Benefits of Gender Diversity to Create a Better Workplace]

4 tips to remove gender bias from job descriptions

Unconscious gender bias and stereotypes are so intertwined within the recruitment process that they often present themselves in areas we’re unaware of — including the language used to sell and promote a role. 

Did you know a poorly written job description can reduce application numbers by 52%, according to the Job Description Library? 

First impressions count, which means job descriptions matter. 

Here are four tips to remove gender bias from your job listings to ensure you speak to all candidates… 

A poorly written job description can reduce applicants by half
According to the Job Description Library, a poorly written job description can halve your application numbers

1. Ensure your job title is gender-neutral 

Why is this important?

Your job title is the entry point for candidates to engage with your job listing, which means you need to be both enticing and accurate. 

As the most impactful element of your job post, it has the power to make your brand a seemingly desirable one to work for or the complete opposite. 

What should you do?

When writing a job title, it’s important to consider your language to ensure you aren’t discouraging certain groups from applying. For example, gendered language (i.e. overly masculine or feminine words) are likely to be a barrier, deterring certain genders from clicking on your job posting. 

In recruitment, masculine words are still heavily present in job titles, particularly in male-dominated industries. Consider the following job titles:

Masculine job titles are still prevalent in job titles
Gender-skewed job titles are still prevalent, particularly masculine ones

How do you do it?

Analyze the historical meaning behind the job titles you’re hiring for, and where possible, find gender-neutral alternatives that speak to all genders. For example, instead of “salesman,” say “salesperson.” 

Alternative gender-neutral job titles
Gender-neutral job title alternatives

While those are more obvious examples of male-centric job titles, more subtle forms of language may unconsciously deter female-identifying applicants from applying due to the masculine undertone. 

For example, according to Glassdoor, you should avoid using words like “rockstar,” “superhero,” “guru,” and “ninja,” which are traditionally more masculine words.  

2. Be aware of the language you use in your job description

Why is this important?

The language used in a job description determines whether candidates screen themselves in or out. 

Studies have shown that masculine language is associated with power, leadership, and dominance, while feminine language is more emotive. 

Researchers at Duke University and the University of Waterloo categorized specific job advertisement language into either male-coded or female-coded words. Similar to Collier & Zhang’s analysis of Textio, they found a clear distinction between masculine and feminine words. 

Their findings included the following gender-coded words…

Masculine and feminine-coded words in job descriptions
According to a Duke University and University of Waterloo study, they found the following masculine-coded and feminine-coded words present in job descriptions

What should you do?

Replace any gender-specific words with gender-neutral alternatives that are more inclusive. 

This doesn’t just include reassessing masculine words, such as “weatherman”; it’s about understanding what terms are attached to gender stereotypes and have an underlying meaning, which may deter specific genders. 

How do you do it?

  • Avoid gender-specific language, such as “honest,” which is more targeted at females, and “ambitious,” which speaks more to male candidates. 
  • Avoid superlatives as they are more male-centric. This includes language, such as: “most capable,” “powerhouse,” and “strongest.”
  • Keep it simple and include only the details that matter. Adding creativity and color to your job description might feel like an important part of expressing your culture, but it’s critical to be intentional about the words you select.
  • Use augmented writing tools like Textio to understand where your language may contain bias and lack gender neutrality. 
  • Use non-gendered pronouns to encourage inclusion. This includes using terms like ‘you’ and ‘they’ to steer clear of giving a gender to the ideal candidate. 

3. Reduce the number of requirements

Why is this important?

Language is critical in helping candidates determine if they’re a good fit for a role. This sentiment is particularly important for female applicants, who are more likely to find reasons why they aren’t suited to a job and seek factors to confirm this. 

According to a Hewlett Packard internal report, men are confident in their ability if they meet 60% of the criteria. But women don’t feel confident applying until they’ve met 100%.  

What does this mean? From a hiring perspective, female candidates are more inclined to apply for a job where they feel their skills align with what’s being asked by the employer. 

Movemeon analyzed 20,000 applications on their job board and found that women view 20% fewer jobs than men. Women also view 25% more job postings than men before applying. 

LinkedIn’s Gender Insights Report mirrors this sentiment with the following findings:

  • Women are 16% less likely than men to apply for a job after viewing it. 
  • Women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men. 
Women-apply-for-jobs-less-than-men
According to LinkedIn and Hewlett Packard, women are less likely to apply for a job than a man, particularly if the don’t meet 100% of the criteria

What should you do?

As women are more likely to screen themselves out of the application process, it’s important to focus on what’s necessary.

As such, consider including only the major requirements critical to the role’s success in your job criteria, and remove anything that isn’t, including the ‘nice to haves’. 

For instance, more than 60% of the American workforce doesn’t have a traditional four-year college degree. Your talent pool is already limited if this is a requirement on your job listing.  

Consider a skills-based approach to hiring to encourage candidates to apply based on their skills alignment and suitability to the role, rather than factors that may not impact their performance. If you’re unsure where to start, Vervoe’s skills-based job description templates are a great way to see where your existing descriptions may contain more bias and unnecessary requirements than you realize. 

[Read more: How To Write Effective Skills-Based Job Descriptions in 4 Easy Steps

How do you do it?

  • Analyze the role you’re hiring for to understand the skills and responsibilities required to succeed in the role. Make these elements the highlight features of your job description. 
  • Remove any unnecessary requirements that may act as deterrents.  
    • For example, consider removing degree requirements since more than half of the American workforce doesn’t have college degrees. 
    • Consider reassessing the importance of extensive experience and seniority. As explained in LinkedIn’s Gender Insight Report, women have historically had less presence in senior roles. As such, a requirement like this could potentially eliminate more women than men from the hiring process. 

4. Make your commitment to diversity and equality known

Why is this important?

Achieving diversity and equality in the workplace is no longer just about doing what’s right. Albeit important, data suggests companies that lack diversity underperform in many areas.

According to McKinsey’s 2019 analysis, organizations in the top quartile of those with gender-diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than competitors in the lowest 25%. This figure increases as the representation of women in executive teams increases. 

Additionally, when diversity and equality are a known priority at an organization, employees feel a greater sense of belonging and inclusion. 

A Great Place to Work study found that when employees felt fairly treated — irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation — organizations experienced better output, employee satisfaction, and retention. Those employees are:

  • 9.8x more likely to enjoy going to work
  • 6.3x more likely to take pride in their work
  • 5.4x more likely to stay longer at the company 
More diverse workplaces experience above-average profitability
According to McKinsey & Company, more diverse workplaces experience above-average profitability

What should you do?

Your organization needs to implement initiatives to create an inclusive and diverse workplace. Analyze your existing language, culture, and workplace to uncover opportunities for improvement. 

How do you do it?

  • Review your existing job descriptions to ensure they’re inclusive of all genders. This means reviewing masculine and feminine words and using pronouns. 
  • Align your diversity and inclusion initiatives with your company mission statement.
  • Make your commitment to diversity and inclusion known — reference how your company supports diversity in your job descriptions to ensure all genders feel welcomed and supported. 
  • Ensure your diversity initiatives are tangible and can be measured.

Final thoughts

Language plays a critical role in influencing whether or not a candidate feels they’re a suitable match for a role. 

Not only can a poorly written job description reduce application numbers by half, but studies also show that women are less likely to apply for a job if they feel they can’t fulfill all the requirements.

This alone impacts diversity in the workplace, moving us further away from gender equality. As workplace diversity is proven to increase profitability, productivity, innovation, and employee retention, a lack thereof can have a significant impact on an organization’s overall business success. 

Yet, there are simple steps organizations can take to reassess their job descriptions to ensure they’re inclusive of all genders. 

This includes removing gender-skewed words from job descriptions and job titles — for example, masculine words like “adventurous,” “ambitious,” and “challenge,” or titles such as “Handyman,” which give the ideal candidate a gender. Additionally, eliminating unnecessary requirements that may act as barriers, such as seniority, experience, and degrees. And making diversity and inclusion initiatives known to candidates to improve brand reputation and desirability.

Bec Eaton

Bec Eaton

Bec Eaton is a Copywriter with over eight years of experience in writing compelling, brand-aligned, and solution-driven copy across a range of industries. Bec joined the Vervoe team in 2022, and currently works as their Content Marketing Specialist.

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