Are your job descriptions turning away talented female applicants?

HR expert Kate Palmer on why having more gender neutral language in job descriptions could broaden the talent employers can attract.

File Folder Labeled as Job Descriptions.

 

No one designs job advertisements with the express purpose of turning away potentially talented candidates. But that could be happening unintentionally, by injecting biased language and words with overtly masculine overtones.

Hiring firm Applied conducted research analysing 76,929 job adverts over six weeks, to test the usage of gendered language in UK recruitment. The research found that, while women and parents didn’t necessarily feel unable to do specific jobs, adverts focusing on competition, aggression and challenge portrayed a laddish culture, which they couldn’t identify with.

Not only does this turn away more female candidates, but it gives them a disadvantage in the recruitment process. If recruiters see the job description, they may be more likely to recommend male candidates for the position, meaning females who may be equally qualified for the job miss out on the opportunity.

In many cases this is unintentional on the part of the poster, who designs job ads to portray the company in what they feel is the most positive light and attract ambitious candidates. With a few small tweaks of the wording this problem can be fixed, and you will start to attract a more equal proportion of male and female applicants.

If you’re unsure where to start, it’s a good idea to start checking for words that could be seen as stereotypically masculine, such as ‘confident’ or ‘forceful’ and replace them or combine them with words such as ‘friendly’, ‘kind’, and ‘sociable’. If you feel some of the more masculine words cannot be avoided, then mix them in with softer ones to help strike a balance. Some of these words are more obvious than others.

Words like ‘best’, ‘better’, ‘expert’, and ‘leading’ are superlatives, meaning in the context of a job description they emphasise competitiveness instead of collaboration and co-operation, despite not carrying any overt masculine or feminine implications.

It’s also a good idea to emphasise any family-friendly benefits that come with the job, such as flexible hours, parental leave, and childcare support packages. These are more likely to appeal to applicants with caring responsibilities who want to fit work life around family.

With a bit of thought, it’s easy to find the right words to match your job description without turning away the best potential candidates of any gender.

Reconsidering some of the requirements listed in the description is also a good idea. While certain jobs must have very specific requirements, for example, requiring a medical degree for doctors, you should broaden your horizons when listing preferred degrees for a role. Women are overrepresented in certain degree fields, such as English Literature, Psychology, or Education, so it’s worth including these in your description, if relevant.

It’s important not to overcompensate by going too far in the opposite direction and using too much stereotypically female-biased language, such as ‘nurturing’, ‘warm’ and ‘supportive’. It’s better to use more gender-neutral terms that simply describe the role itself such as ‘lawyer,’ ‘nurse’ or ‘executive’.

With a bit of thought, it’s easy to find the right words to match your job description without turning away the best potential candidates of any gender.

*Kate Palmer is Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula which provides HR and health & safety support for small businesses.



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