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How To Avoid Bias In Job Descriptions

Posted on September 2020

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There is overwhelming evidence that companies with diverse workforces perform better on every possible metric, with diversity positively impacting every level of a business, from the cleaning staff to the board of directors. 

Bringing in as many perspectives, working styles and experience as possible to a workplace leads to integration, success and growth to those businesses who dedicate effort into attracting a diverse talent pool. 

The first step to make when aiming to achieve a balanced workforce is to ensure job advertisements avoid signs of unconscious bias. This helps present you as a welcoming and forward-thinking employer. You will also discover that your job positions attract a rich wealth of resumes after eliminating bias in your job descriptions. 

Biased job descriptions can discourage capable and talented candidates from applying for a role they are perfect for, and problems can be found both within the language and content of your job descriptions. 

Thankfully, it is easy to avoid bias in job descriptions through simple edits and considerations. Follow these rules to attract a diverse and successful talent pool.

 

What is Unconscious Bias?

Though the majority of us strive to encourage inclusiveness and diversity, unconscious bias incorporates the assumptions we make about groups based on gender, ethnicity, age and class due to the structures we live in. When writing job descriptions, this will most often come through in gendered or other biased language.  

Unconscious bias can discourage qualified candidates who feel like a job description is looking for a specific type of person, and are unintentionally excluded. 

Are Your Job Titles Inclusive?

Unconscious bias affects many aspects of language, through to job titles themselves. Many job titles are gendered, and successful efforts have been made to reframe traditional roles such as chairman (chairperson), fireman (firefighter) and councilman (council member).

Even modern descriptors hold a bias. Have you ever seen a job from a hip company seeking a ‘rockstar’, a ‘guru’ or a ‘ninja’? These are fun titles which give candidates a vivid impression of a company's culture, but all of these terms still hold gendered connotations. A mother in her 40s with the qualifications and experience required may not want to apply for a role with ‘ninja’ in the title. These job titles can also give the (often false) impression of a company dominated by men or entrenched in a ‘lad’ culture where others are not welcome. 

Ensure your job titles are gender-neutral, avoid discouraging older applicants and are descriptive of what the job entails (e.g. ‘Magento Build Project Manager’).

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Use Gender-Neutral Pronouns

This is a fast and effective way of cleaning up your job descriptions, and a simple rule to follow when advertising new roles. Don’t include gender-specific pronouns in your job description. Stick to they/their and you when referring to the candidate. ‘S/he’ is also an acceptable replacement for gender-specific pronouns,  

This rule also applies to collective nouns. Phrases such as ‘guys’ can be easily replaced with ‘team’ or ‘folks’. 

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Check For Biased Language

This is where judgement can be more complicated. 

When describing the ideal candidate for a role, job descriptions do lean towards using phrases which contain unconscious bias. For example, typically masculine traits include ‘assertive’ and ‘competitive’. While women have every ability to be assertive in the workplace, this can also be viewed as loyalty and supportiveness through a ‘feminine’ lens. 

This also works the other way. Roles which may be classically applied to by women may include words such as ‘bubbly’ or ‘nurturing’ to unconsciously encourage female applicants and discourage applications from men. 

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Avoid Presenting A Toxic Work Culture

When presenting your work culture, language choices can give applicants the vision of a ‘bro’ culture of after-work beers, chats about matchday and, in worse case scenarios, sexual harassment. Phrases such as ‘work hard, play hard’ and ‘banter’ will not only put off the majority of female applicants but many men too. Consider the wide spectrum of lifestyles your potential applicants could follow and elements of your work culture which will appeal to many, not just a single generation or lifestyle.

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Consider Your Job Requirements

Alongside bias in language, the general content of your job applications are worth reviewing to make them more inclusive. This includes avoiding job descriptions which contain an exhaustive list of skills needed for the role. 

In general, men are usually much more confident in their suitability for the roles they apply for, even if they don’t have all of the required skills for the role. Meanwhile, women are much more cautious about applying for roles. The more in-depth and specific a job description is, the less likely a qualified or near-qualified woman will apply for it, even if she ticks more boxes than a male applicant. 

Avoid this by outlining only the absolutely essential requirements for the role (such as education levels, years of experience, skills qualifications) followed by general ‘desired’ or ‘nice to have’ requirements. This will lift barriers to entry which often stop those with low confidence or imposter syndrome to apply. Provide a smaller amount of boxes to ‘tick’ to attract a larger and higher quality range of candidates. 

The best approach is to create descriptions which use succinct and direct language. Make your descriptions easy to follow, read and digest. 

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Use Online Tools To Eliminate Bias in Job Descriptions

Larger companies have now invested in software to help highlight and change job descriptions and other materials to remove signs of unconscious bias. Recruitment software OnGiguses a text analysis tool to help remove biased language. Textio is a leading ‘augmented writing’ software for recruiters which will eliminate gendered or biased language or job requirements while still ensuring your chosen language has the passion and impact you want to encourage applications.