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Unconscious Gender Bias in Job Postings

by | Jun 12, 2019

It can be difficult to hire diverse employees if you don’t have a diverse set of candidates to begin with. What can be done to get more diverse candidates to respond to technical job postings? There are actually two really simple things that can be done to the language and format of a job posting to get more diverse applicants – look at the gender coding of the language used and review the required skills and languages.

WORDS MATTER

A lot of academic research has been done to figure out how words are coded. There are certain descriptor words that are typically associated with males (active, leading, objective) and others that are typically associated with females (responsible, collaborative, supporting). This is not saying that women can’t be leading, or men can’t be supporting. Research has just shown that certain words are perceived to apply to males instead of females and vice versa. We may not notice how these words are coded doing a cursory read but using a high amount of coded words towards only one gender can drastically impact the diversity of the applicant pool.

I found an online tool that takes the texts from job postings and gives a quick analysis of how gender-coded it is.  Out of curiosity, I decided to take a few job postings I could find online from different tech companies and see what kind of language they use. I took an entry-level Software Engineer job posting from Google and found that it leaned towards more masculine-coded language (5 masculine to 3 feminine-coded words). I then grabbed a posting for a similar role at Facebook and found that it used way more feminine-coded words than masculine (2 masculine to 18 feminine). At first, this surprised me, until I started looking at the actual postings themselves. Facebook’s ad focuses a lot on community and the importance of working with others, while Google’s add focused on the technologies you need to know to do the job. The kinds of applicants Google and Facebook are getting from these job postings are probably drastically different.

Paying attention to gendered language in job postings is a simple way to try to diversify your applicant pool, especially with tools you can have review the language used. Another easy way to increase applicant pool diversity is to overhaul the required technologies and skills listed on the application. Studies have shown that men will feel confident in their ability to do a job if they meet 60% of the listed requirements, while women feel confident if they meet 100% of the requirements.

SKILL STRATEGY

Are every single one of the required job skills actually required for the candidate to be successful, or are there some that the candidate could feasibly learn on the job? If the candidate is expected to jump right into a JavaScript application, then they are really going to need to have some experience programming in JavaScript. But do they need to know ReactJS as well? Could a candidate with experience using Angular be successful after a short time coming up to speed using React? These are the kinds of questions that need to be carefully considered when writing a technical job posting. If you are very specific about needing someone with a React background, you might miss out on some great applicants that have experience in other JavaScript libraries.

It is important to have a diverse group of employees, but it becomes extremely difficult to do without a diverse candidate pool. By making some simple changes to the language and format of a job posting, you could increase the number and diversity of the candidates you get applying for jobs.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

I also want to leave you with a link to a great checklist from the National Center for Women & IT to help reduce the unconscious bias in job postings. Take a look and see if you can determine ways to edit the job postings you create.  

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