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6 Simple Steps to Reduce Gender Bias in Your Job Descriptions

Written by Michelle Silverstein

The gender gap is an issue on everyone’s minds, even more so for certain industries where women are particularly underrepresented, like technology or sales. There are many theories floating around that attempt to explain why the gender gap persists, some with more merit than others. The result is that it can feel incredibly daunting to actually come with up with an action plan for reducing the gender gap within your organization. What actionable steps are worth taking?

If your goal is to increase the number of women in your organization, the simplest first step is to increase the number of women applying to your positions. While you can’t magically create a pool of applicants interested in your field, there’s a ton of recent research on the tactics you can use to attract female applicants, particularly when writing your job descriptions.

Reducing Gender Bias

Minimizing gender bias in your job descriptions starts with reevaluating your word choice. In general, you can improve the diversity of your applicant pool by using more gender-neutral language. In fact, when you use gender-neutral wording, your entire applicant pool, regardless of gender, can increase by as much as 42%. As a result, you’re taking full advantage of the diverse pool of candidates out there.

However, it’s not always intuitive which words have an unintended gender bias and which ones don’t. Fortunately, we can learn from recent studies that have compiled data on the effects that certain words have on application rates. Once you learn more about these nuances, you can easily adjust the descriptions to ensure gender neutrality when you are hiring for a new position. Here are a few tips to help you eliminate gender bias:

  1. Familiarize Yourself with Feminine/Masculine Words: Use the free Gender Decoder to look for words that imply female or male traits. For example, words like “determine” or “analyze” are associated with masculine traits, while “support” or “collaborate” are associated with female traits.
  2. Pick Job Titles that are Gender-Neutral: The job title is the first thing most job seekers will see, serving as the point of entry for enticing them to take a closer look at the description. A gender-charged job title decreases the number of candidates that will consider the opportunity because it may unintentionally be unappealing to women. Stick with neutral titles such as “developer” or “project manager,” while avoiding cliché terms such as “ninja,” “rockstar,” or “hacker,” which research has demonstrated to be male-oriented terms.
  3. Change Up Your Pronouns: Instead of defaulting to “he” as the pronoun in the description, use “you” or “S/he.” Or consider avoiding pronouns entirely.
  4. Reduce Job Requirements: Research shows that men typically apply for a job once they meet 60% of the listed requirements, but women are unlikely to apply unless they meet 100% of the requirements. Listing too many job requirements could drive away female applicants because they don’t feel qualified enough to apply. Try to think through which job requirements are absolutely necessary and which ones are just preferred – you can still list these additional skills in a separate “Preferred Qualifications” section.
  5. Focus on Benefits that Promote Work-Life Balance: Working women still handle the majority of household chores and childcare, so it makes sense that they also prioritize work-life balance and family friendly benefits when choosing a job. One way to appeal to this in the job description is by highlighting family-friendly benefits that your company offers. These benefits might include subsidies for child care, flextime, or parental leave. And if you don’t have any of these policies in place and also struggle with a gender inequality issue, consider adopting some of these policies.
  6. State Your Policy on Equality: If creating a diverse workforce is something your organization is committed to, let potential applicants know! Add a phrase that clearly states your commitment to equality in the workplace. One or two sentences at the end of the description is all it takes.

A few small changes to your job descriptions can go a long way to not only draw in more female applicants but also to draw in more total applicants. Use these six steps to improve your job descriptions and maximize your results when hiring for your company.

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