Writing gender-neutral job ads

Many recruiters tell us they want to attract more applications from women (if they’re in construction) or men (if they are in social care).

Attracting the right gender goes beyond the wording you use in the job ad, because the actual work environment has to be perceived as welcoming to the people you’re trying to recruit. You can’t control for that, but you can make sure you choose neutral language in your ads.

This article looks at what the data says.

Why gender diversity is important…

McKinsey & Company say companies with the most gender-diverse boardrooms are 15% more likely to enjoy above-average profitability.

US economists found that moving from an all-male or all-female office to one split evenly along gender lines could boost revenue by roughly 41%.

The problem…

Gendered wording (and photos) signal who ‘belongs’ and who doesn’t. Therefore the language you use in an ad affects the appeal and perceived ’safety’ of a job (for women, not so much for men).

Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality.

Proof that gender-neutral language works…

Textio say using gender-neutral language fills jobs 14 days faster than posts with a masculine or feminine bias, and attracts a more diverse mix of people.

ZipRecruiter found that US gender-neutral job adverts receive up to 42% more applications than biased counterparts.

Australian software giant Atlassian used Textio’s software and saw an 80% increase in the hiring of women in technical roles globally over a two-year period.

Nationally, only 17% of tech jobs are female. ShopDirect saw 40% increase in female applicants for senior data analyst roles as a result of changing the language they used in their ads.

What it means to your writing…

Review of Hewlett Packard’s internal research findings that women don’t apply unless they feel they are 100% qualified, while men apply if they only match 60% of the stated requirements.

Textio research shows if you have too many bulleted lists, fewer women will apply. On the other hand, if you have too few bulleted lists, a lower number of men will apply. The ideal gender-neutral balance – they say – is 1-3 bullet lists per job ad.

TotalJobs now has its own gender-bias decoder. Within 77.000 of their own job adverts, they found 478,175 words which carry gender bias, an average of 6 male-coded or female-coded words per job advert.

TotalJobs used the male/female word list from research by The University of Waterloo and Duke University 2011 (this is the same study that underpins the gender decoder we share on the course sometimes. Here it is. You can click through to the study at the foot of the decoder, and scroll to the end for the word lists.

Why it happens…

As well as institutional discrimination, prevailing inequality and benevolent sexism, there’s the issue of unconscious bias.

Neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw and Dame Karren Brady did a study which was broadcast on the BBC in April 2018. 

The told recruiters they were looking for an IT Manager in an Engineering firm, and showed them CVs that were loaded with male/female words. There were two parts to the study:

A) 8 recruiters were asked to pick one suitable applicant from 10 CVs that had obviously male or female names / images, then to pick one from 10 anonymised CVs. All the CVs showed IT experience in engineering, and a relevant degree.
B) The study was repeated with 8 different recruiters. They were shown the same CVs in the opposite order (anonymous first, named second)

Results: Only one woman was picked.

The recruiters were mortified and/or angry because they were convinced they didn’t have unconscious bias… but Lynda explains we need it as humans, because it’s the basis of quick decision-making. Also, it’s unconscious.

This just proves that recruiters are human. Like anyone else, it means you just can’t help writing from your own point of view. That might mean that, if you’re male, you’re more likely to use ‘male’ language, and the other way around.

All you can do is raise your awareness, and perhaps use the tools suggested in this article to make your ads as neutral as possible.

Find out more