For Employers: Attracting Diverse Candidates Through Job Description Language

April 19th, 2018 by ifi-admin

A team of culturally-diverse colleagues sitting in a conference room

In the technical professions, it can be tough to recruit a gender-balanced and diverse field of applicants when a mere 26% of American women are programmers, and 11% are engineers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Monoculture is bad for business, and not just in terms of meeting equal opportunity employment benchmarks. A study on the economic impact of diversity in the workplace by McKinsey & Co. reports that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

What few companies realize is that their job descriptions could be discouraging women and minorities from even applying. Research into gendered language in job descriptions and candidates’ responses has shown that many job descriptions are gender-biased. This results in a reduced number of applicants and thus ultimately perpetuates the cycle of gender inequality in the workplace.

Danielle Gaucher and Justin Friesen of the University of Waterloo together with Aaron C. Kay from Duke University co-authored a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology exploring the impact of gendered wording in job advertisements. They examined many dimensions of candidate responses in terms of the impact of language on “job appeal,” fostering “belongingness,” and also evaluated the impact of collaborative versus individual-oriented language. Their research gave rise to an online tool to assess job descriptions for gender slant. (See #1 below.)

Survey Says…Pass!

In contrast to the academic approach of analyzing responses to job description language, an informal poll on Twitter by Erin Kisane asked what kind of language turned candidates away from applying, versus language that is inviting. The responses ranged from informative to humorous. Here are a few examples of common responses from women and minorities:

  • Many respondents reported suspicion of using words like “Rockstar/Ninja/Jedi” since this equals “Bros” (male monoculture) code.
  • One poster cited that “Free dinner” implies “Culture of long work hours and devalued labor.”
  • Another poster reported suspicion of an over-emphasis on “cool/fun/foosball” as being code for “people like us (white bros monoculture).”
  • Several posters reported favorable responses to “inclusive” language that described opportunities for improvement and stressed facilitation and collaboration as desired qualities.

Here are some tips to attract diverse talent and avoid the kind of language traps that can cause excellent candidates to “pass” on applying for your job.

  1. Use non-gendered language. Check out the “Gender-Decoder” where you can paste your job description into a window see the response:
  2. Avoid red flag terms such as “rock star” or “ninja,” and avoid references to ping pong and keggers as company benefits.
  3. Make your job requirements inclusive, not exclusive. “Must-have” language deters qualified candidates. Use “preferred” instead of “required” and “should” instead of “must” when describing qualifications and developing criteria.
  4. Extreme modifiers cause “Unparalleled,” “World-Class,” hyperbolic headaches! That’s because many well-qualified candidates don’t necessarily view themselves this way.
  5. Talk About The Team – Set your company apart by describing the team culture.
  6. Express your commitment to creating a culturally diverse and gender-balanced, collaborative environment.

Are you having trouble attracting a diverse candidate field? Talk to Phoenix Partners for help!

Phoenix Partners, Inc. • 638 Overhill Road • Suite 200 • Ardmore, PA 19003 • Phone: (610) 649-1909
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