It’s no secret that gender and other diversity biases manifest in many different forms in the working world, and thankfully, there’s been a concerted effort to even the playing field for men and women. In the hiring realm, specifically, huge progress has been made.
For example, in the 1970s, with women comprising only 6 percent of symphony orchestras, hiring leaders in the space embarked on an initiative to open up their audition and hiring processes. Previously, orchestra directors would interview and handpick the candidates they felt were the best musicians and fits. The changes implemented in the 1970s included blind auditions whereby candidates went through multiple rounds of recorded and/or live auditions behind screens that concealed their identity.
So, what happened once these changes were made? Female applicants progressing from the preliminary to the secondary round increased 11 percent. The findings were even more dramatic in the final round, where the likelihood of female musicians being selected increased 30 percent. The number of women in the top 250 U.S. orchestras rose to 21 percent in 1993 and has shot past 50 percent today.
However, as encouraging as this story may be, the reality is that gender biases enter the hiring process long before candidates start interviewing – and sometimes these biases present themselves in ways that may feel impossible detect.
For instance, a research article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Studies found that the language used in job postings maintains gender inequality by affecting the likelihood that certain genders apply for certain jobs. Specifically, in the case of male-dominated fields such as construction, engineering, and programming, job postings included greater masculine wording (words associated with male stereotypes) such as decisive, intense, challenge, competitive, and confident. The research found that even if women embody those traits, the masculine wording dissuades women from applying to those postings because it implies that these jobs are not for them.
The opposite is true of positions held typically by women, such as nurse practitioner, physical therapist, and physician assistant. These listings include words and phrases that are more feminine (words associated with female stereotypes) and thereby more likely to attract women candidates (“pink-collar” jobs). According to research by Textio, job postings that employ masculine language attract more candidates that are men, whereas those with more feminine language attract more candidates that are women. Perceptions are everything, and words truly matter. In this case, just as people are more likely to apply to jobs for which they think they have the requisite skills, they also are more likely to apply to a job where they feel a sense of belonging—an emotional and cognitive connection.
The outtake from this analysis is that gender divisions in the workforce and attempts at diversity will remain problematic until new models for worker recruitment are instituted, and this starts with the writing of job descriptions. The language employed in job listings subtly promotes inequality by keeping women out of male-dominated occupations and men out of female-dominated occupations.
So, for recruiters and hiring managers wanting to ensure that their job postings do not contain gender-biased wording and phrasing, what are a couple things that you can do?
While the below chart is by no means an exhaustive list of masculine and feminine words, you need to be careful in how often and when you use these words in your job postings. Further, contextual meaning of words and phrases vary across industries and job types; word vectors and sub-symbolic processing are not static.
Gender-bias in job descriptions is more than a list of words and their correlation. How you articulate sentences and phrases in job descriptions also matter. Consider the following examples.
Scenario 1: Job Responsibilities
- Masculine language. Direct project teams to execute activities to agreed-upon timetables and ensure compliance with workflows and client requirements.
- Feminine language. Coordinate project teams to support client requirements in accordance with workflow and timetable objectives.
Scenario 2: Qualifications
- Masculine language. Self-starter who is decisive, self-confident, and driven to succeed.
- Feminine language. Dependable collaborator who exercises sound judgment and demonstrates flexible agility.
Changing the gender composition of symphony orchestras didn’t happen overnight. The same is true of other professions, and some are farther along this path than others. It will occur over time and in various ways.
A great place to start is to make some subtle changes in how you write job descriptions. In the case of MightyRecruiter, we’ve helped take the guesswork out of job descriptions by creating over 300 job description templates that are gender-neutral and geared to help you attract the most relevant candidates for your job postings. Start your free trial today to begin eliminating bias from your own postings!