Are your job ads gender biased? Why gender neutral job descriptions matter



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10 mins

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As hard as HR professionals try to write robust job adverts, human nature means its inevitable that bias creeps in. We explain how this happens – and why it matters

Gender equality is a fundamental aspect of a just society and a thriving workplace. Gender neutral job descriptions play a pivotal role in promoting gender equality by eradicating biases and creating an equitable recruitment process. When job ads are biased, they reinforce stereotypes, discourage certain groups from applying, and restrict access to opportunities based on gender. Conversely, inclusive job ads help dismantle barriers, foster diversity, and enable individuals to be evaluated on their merits and qualifications.

Think about your own company’s job adverts: does the language you use unintentionally attract (or dissuade) a particular gender? Are there specific terms included in your job descriptions which could be biased towards a particular gender? And does it matter? Evidence suggests that recruiters would do well to be aware of the unconscious opinions – based on stereotypes and prejudices – that might be hampering their recruitment efforts.

Understanding gender bias in job ads: why it matters

Gender bias refers to the systematic and often unconscious preference or prejudice towards individuals of a particular gender, usually to the detriment of the other gender. It can manifest in various aspects of society, including language and job descriptions. Gender bias in language occurs when certain words or phrases carry inherent assumptions about gender roles or abilities, reinforcing stereotypes and perpetuating inequalities. In job descriptions, gender bias may inadvertently dissuade qualified candidates of a specific gender from applying, leading to a lack of diversity in the applicant pool and, ultimately, impacting hiring practices.

Unconscious biases play a significant role in perpetuating gender bias. These biases are automatic and unintentional associations and attitudes that individuals hold towards certain groups based on societal norms, cultural conditioning, and personal experiences. While unconscious biases may not align with an individual’s conscious beliefs, they can still influence decision-making processes, including hiring choices. For instance, an unconscious association of certain roles or skills with a specific gender might lead to inadvertent preference during candidate evaluation.

Academic research has consistently demonstrated the prevalence of gender bias in job ads. In a study by the University of Pennsylvania, experts proposed that certain words or phrases in job descriptions can inadvertently convey a gender preference. For example, words such as “dominant,” “competitive,” or “ambitious” may be perceived as more masculine-coded, while words like “supportive,” “collaborative,” or “nurturing” may be seen as more feminine-coded. When these biased terms are used in job ads, they can unconsciously deter candidates of the non-preferred gender from applying, even if they possess the requisite skills and qualifications.

One study conducted by researchers from Harvard University found that job ads in male-dominated fields tended to use more masculine-coded language, making the roles appear less appealing to female candidates. Conversely, job ads in female-dominated fields used more feminine-coded language, deterring male applicants. These subtle linguistic cues can have a significant impact on the gender balance in applicant pools and, consequently, in the workforce.

Addressing gender bias in job descriptions and hiring practices is crucial for promoting diversity and inclusivity in organisations. Employers can take proactive steps to mitigate gender bias, such as using gender-neutral language, emphasising essential qualifications rather than “nice to have” attributes, and explicitly stating their commitment inclusive practices by providing access to equality and diversity eLearning courses.

Raising awareness of unconscious biases among hiring managers and implementing structured hiring processes can help minimise the impact of biases on candidate evaluation and selection, fostering a more equitable and diverse workforce.

Legal guidelines for writing gender neutral job descriptions

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers in the UK are obligated to create job advertisements that uphold the principles of gender equality and avoid any form of discrimination based on gender. Gender-neutral job ads play a crucial role in ensuring that all individuals, regardless of gender, have equal opportunities to pursue their career aspirations. To achieve this, job advertisements must be carefully crafted to steer clear of any language, terms, or requirements that may inadvertently imply a preference or exclusion for a specific gender. For instance:

1. Avoid gender-specific terminology

When crafting job ads, it is essential to use language that is neutral and inclusive. Steer clear of gender-specific terms like “salesman,” “foreman,” or “waitress,” because these can perpetuate traditional gender stereotypes and deter potential candidates. Instead, opt for gender-neutral alternatives, such as “sales representative,” “supervisor,” or “server.”

2. Focus on skills and qualifications

Emphasise the essential skills, qualifications, and experience required for the job. Avoid using unnecessary adjectives or adverbs that may unconsciously convey gender bias. Keep the focus on the job requirements and the candidate’s ability to perform the tasks effectively, irrespective of gender.

3. Neutral job titles

Job titles should be neutral and reflective of the role’s responsibilities without any gender-specific connotations. Use titles that encompass the essence of the position, ensuring that they do not discourage applicants of any gender from applying.

4. Be inclusive in pronouns

Consider using gender-neutral pronouns such as “they/them” instead of “he/she” in job descriptions. This approach ensures that individuals of all gender identities feel welcome and represented.

5. Eliminate unnecessary gendered language

Review the job description thoroughly to identify any unnecessary gendered language or assumptions. Phrases such as “works well with women/men” or “strong leadership qualities” may inadvertently perpetuate gender stereotypes and should be avoided.

6. Prioritise job requirements

Ensure that the requirements listed in the job ad are essential for successful performance in the role. Avoid including non-essential criteria that may disproportionately impact one gender and discourage potential applicants.

7. Highlight commitment to diversity and inclusion

Express your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in job ads. Make it clear that your company values a diverse workforce, takes an inclusive approach to hiring, and fosters an inclusive environment where all individuals are welcomed and supported.

8. Regularly review and revise job descriptions

Regularly review job advertisements to ensure they align with the principles of gender equality and inclusivity. Stay informed about updates to legislation or guidelines that may impact your job ad writing practices.

By adopting these practices and adhering to the Equality Act 2010, employers can play a significant role in creating a more equitable and diverse job market, ultimately building a workforce that celebrates the unique contributions of individuals, regardless of gender identity.

Five steps to creating gender neutral job descriptions

Keeping job adverts free from gender bias is an important step towards promoting equality and diversity in the workplace. Here are some guidelines to help you create inclusive job adverts:

1. Use gender bias job description checkers

Running your job ad through online gender bias checkers can be a valuable step in ensuring a gender-neutral approach to writing job descriptions. Helpful tools like the Gender Decoder analyse the language used in the ad and compare it against a list of gender-coded words compiled from academic research. These checkers work quickly, providing almost instant feedback on potentially biased terms or phrases.

TotalJobs also provides a similar free tool to help employers craft more inclusive job ads. By using these tools, employers can become more aware of unintentional gender biases that may exist in their job descriptions, allowing them to make necessary adjustments to ensure a fair and balanced approach to attracting applicants of all genders. Embracing such technology empowers companies to take proactive steps toward creating an inclusive work environment and promoting gender equality within their recruitment processes.

2. Review your current job descriptions to check if they’re gender neutral

Reviewing your current job titles, whether they are used in job advertisements or within the organisation, is another critical step in promoting gender neutrality and inclusivity. Traditional job titles like ‘foreman’ or ‘salesman’ can carry implicit gender connotations and perpetuate outdated stereotypes. As a forward-thinking employer, it’s essential to assess how your job titles may inadvertently discourage individuals of a particular gender from applying or advancing in certain roles.

3. Showcase your organisation’s commitment to diversity

Incorporating your organisation’s commitment to diversity into your job descriptions and advertisements is a powerful way to attract a more diverse pool of candidates. By explicitly stating your values, you signal that diversity and inclusion are core principles in your workplace. Potential applicants from various backgrounds are more likely to be drawn to opportunities where they feel their unique perspectives and experiences will be appreciated and respected.

By listing diversity as a core value, you send a clear message that your company is actively working towards creating an inclusive environment where individuals from all walks of life can thrive. This can make a significant impact on candidates’ decision-making process, encouraging those who prioritise diversity and inclusivity to apply, while also signalling that your organisation is committed to combating biases and promoting equity.

4. Identify and prioritise your ‘must have’ requirements

Identify those requirements that are ‘nice to have’ as opposed to ‘must have’ and prioritise the ‘must haves’. Widely reported research shows that women are unlikely to apply for a position unless they meet 100% of a job’s requirements, while men will apply if they meet 60% of the requirements. Including a long list of qualifying factors in a job advert may alienate candidates who have most of the right skills and capabilities, but don’t have some of the low-priority traits you’ve listed.

5. Express your commitment to diversity and inclusion

If you work in a traditionally male or female-dominated industry, make extra efforts to express your commitment to diversity and inclusion. Analysis of internal data by US job board ZipRecruiter has revealed the prevalence of masculine action words in industries such as business, finance, healthcare, and insurance, underscores the importance of addressing language biases. These industries often use words that inadvertently perpetuate male-oriented stereotypes, creating a potential deterrent for candidates of diverse gender identities.

To counteract such biases, organisations in these sectors should take proactive steps to express their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Firstly, they can incorporate gender-neutral language in their job descriptions, advertisements, and overall communication. By opting for inclusive language that emphasises skills and qualifications over gender-specific attributes, organisations can attract a more diverse pool of talent.


Ultimately, striving to create gender neutral job descriptions is a crucial step towards building a just society and promoting gender equality in the workplace. HR professionals have the power to create change by adopting inclusive language and embracing diversity at every stage of the recruitment process, fostering an environment where all individuals are evaluated on their merits and qualifications, irrespective of gender. By doing so, organisations can attract top talent from diverse backgrounds, driving innovation, and fostering a culture of belonging and success.

Ciphr is committed to partnering with UK organisations who believe in the power of HR to make a positive difference to diversity and inclusion (D&I). Our HR software and recruitment software feature tools to help you monitor and measure progress on diversity and inclusion targets. Our subsidiary, Marshall E-Learning, is a leading authority in the D&I space, providing diversity and inclusion consultancy and training services that help to foster belonging and create an inclusive environment where all employees can thrive. Plus, Ciphr and Marshalls offers high-quality off-the-shelf eLearning content on critical D&I topics such as race, menopause, neurodiversity, and much more.

So if you’re looking for a people management solutions partner who can help you create a truly inclusive organisational culture, speak to Ciphr now about how our range of software, learning content and services can help you make progress towards your goals.