Are You Awake to the Unconscious Bias of Job Ads?

By Andrew Willis
27 Jun 2018

If you’ve been copying the same text for your job ads for the past few years, then it’s time to wake up to the unconscious bias of recruitment. Words matter. Not only in conveying the full specifications of the role you are advertising for, but for recruiting the right kind of people.

Unconscious Bias

Recent research has shown that certain words are more likely to attract a certain gender to a role. If you are attempting to diversify your workforce, consider rewording your adverts to appeal to the target demographic you are recruiting for. There is no particular rhyme or reason why a lot of the phrases appeal to some and not to others. In some cases, certain words are clearly masculine or feminine, but some seemingly neutral words and phrases can be unintentionally exclusive. For example, if you are recruiting for a managing role, the word manage has authoritarian connotations and is considered quite masculine. Using the word develop instead makes the role sound more appealing: “We’re looking for someone to manage a team of accountants…” vs “We’re looking for an individual to help develop a team of accountants…”

Gender Bias

Research done by Textio, a software company that utilises artificial intelligence to identify unconscious bias, revealed a number of surprising results. Perhaps most significantly, not just the wording of the ad, but the structure, will impact whether women are interested in the role. An ad that includes a large number of lengthy bullet points will see a drop in women applying for the position. Women also seem to be more drawn to roles that embrace creativity and personal development, hence the preference of develop over manage, as well as create rather than build. These words suggest a subtle shift- not just building for the sake of building, but crafting, creating, and developing a new way of thinking.

The Benefits of Tackling Bias

First and foremost, tackling bias in the workplace is simply the correct thing to do. It helps eliminate bullying, discrimination, and creates a pleasant and productive working environment. The best and most effective way to achieve this is simply to recruit an ethnically and gender-diverse workforce. With the recent focus on gender pay gaps and the lack of women in boardrooms, companies are coming under more and more scrutiny. Having a gender-diverse workforce not only helps create a balance within the workplace, it will help minimise scrutiny from without. If that isn’t reason enough, it has been proven in a number of recent studies that having an inclusive team benefits the business financially. Ethnically diverse teams are 33% more likely to outperform their peers. Similarly, gender diverse boardrooms are 15% more likely to make an above average profit. Perhaps the most startling figure is when companies whose workforce was entirely mono-gendered switched to a gender-balanced one. These companies were shown to have a boost in revenue up to 41%

Expert Support

Suzanne Tanser, Reward Business Manager states:

“There has been a great deal of negativity around pay gaps recently but forward-thinking businesses can capitalise positively on the continuing media attention surrounding gender pay and gender bias; they now have a real opportunity to examine closely how they recruit for all roles, especially those where they know that there is a lack of diversity under scrutiny by their customers and shareholders. The content and success of job adverts are driven very much by the detail outlined in job descriptions; it’s a great starting point to invest some time in reviewing these to ensure they are built to reflect current and future business needs and they encourage applications from diverse internal and external candidates. Certain sectors where gender pay gaps are high such as finance and insurance, construction and IT in particular are now expected to facilitate greater diversity at senior levels. An overall audit of the language that is used in job descriptions and job postings by an independent third party could reveal some interesting insights.”

If you are trying to recruit a more diverse workforce, Croner can help with the wording of your job ads, and conduct a series of reports and surveys to check you are meeting your quota. For help with this, or any other HR and Employment Law issue, please call one of our experts on 0808 145 3384

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.





Get expert views & insights delivered directly to your inbox