6 December 2017

Are your job ads gender biased?


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Diversity and inclusion Recruitment and retention Talent management


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

Does the language used in your organisation’s job adverts 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.

A job advert may well be the first impression that a potential applicant has of your brand, and could significantly affect how they perceive you as an employer.

If your copy appears biased towards a particular gender then you’re immediately alienating certain people as well as comprising your reputation as an inclusive employer.

“Almost half (42%) of women in non-tech roles think that gender bias is worse than they had expected. This percentage rises even higher for women who are further up on the corporate ladder, with 52% of women in senior management roles and 57% of women who are executive board members stating that they have experienced gender bias in the workplace.”

– Booking.com global study

There are many rules and guidelines that should be observed when creating a job advert. These are largely related to best practices for attracting applicants, but some of these rules are specifically designed to help prevent businesses from creating an advert which discriminates.

As a general rule, if an ordinary, reasonable person with no special knowledge will think the advertisement is discriminatory then it is deemed unlawful.

Research carried out by Total Jobs found that creating job ads using gender-neutral wording attracts 42% more responses, further reinforcing the need to remove such biases.

Although there is an extensive list of words and terms that are deemed biased, these words are not banned by law; it is up to recruiters to use discretion and be mindful of potentially biased wording when creating a job ad.

“On an industry basis for unconscious gender bias, consulting, sales and IT were more likely to use male-coded language in senior roles, while social care was the sector most likely to use female-coded language.”

– RealBusiness

According to a study by TotalJobs of 76,929 job adverts in a six-week period in 2017, the most commonly used male-biased words in UK job descriptions are:

  1. Lead – 70,539 mentions
  2. Analyse – 35,339 mentions
  3. Competitive – 23,079 mentions
  4. Active – 20,041 mentions
  5. Confident – 13,841 mentions

The most commonly used female-biased words in UK job descriptions are:

  1. Support – 83,095 mentions
  2. Responsible – 64,909 mentions
  3. Understanding – 29,638 mentions
  4. Dependable – 16,979 mentions
  5. Committed – 13,129 mentions

What can be done to eliminate gender bias?

  • Running your job ad through any one of a number of online gender bias checkers can help to identify those words deemed biased. This tool is checks copy against a list of gender-coded words published in a 2011 research paper, and runs in seconds. Job board TotalJobs also has a similar free tool
  • It’s also important to review your current job titles, both advertised and in use by employees. Are these job titles gender neutral or do they include roles such as ‘foreman’ or ‘salesman’? Think about how the language you use could be made more inclusive
  • If your brand values promote diversity, explicitly list them in your job descriptions and adverts
  • Identify those requirements that are ‘nice to have’ as opposed to ‘must have’, and prioritise the ‘must haves’.  Widely reported research shows suggests 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-prioritytraits you’ve listed
  • 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 found that roles in the business, finance, healthcare and insurance industries “all showed a strong inclination towards using masculine action words”