Benefiting from Gender-Neutral Language in Recruitment

A study of 75,000 job ads over a six week period found that 478,175 ads contained gender bias, so clearly, gender equality is something that recruiters need to get better at. However, heightened media awareness has meant many companies are now taking steps to include gender-neutral language into their job adverts in order to comply with employment legislation, and promote diversity within their organisations.

Many are discovering that there are other advantages to be gained through the use of gender-neutral language in the recruitment process. A survey by McKinsey examining diversity in the workplace found that those companies that are more gender-neutral perform better in the market place with profits of 15% above their respective national industry medians. While employers that don’t use gender-neutral language can lose out on the best candidates, shrink the size of their talent pool and incur higher costs when recruiting.

Unconscious gender bias
Companies that don’t operate gender-neutral policies when it comes to recruitment run the risk of unconscious gender bias, so it’s important for recruiters to take steps to understand how and why it can happen in a job advert.

While it’s very easy for recruiters to avoid using pronouns, such as ‘he’ and ‘she’, or ‘man’ as a suffix for job titles, gender bias can occur by using masculine-coded words. Researchers at the University of Waterloo and Duke University found that masculine-coded words such as ‘competitive’, ‘active’ and ‘confident’ were used more in job adverts for male-dominated roles. Male buzzwords, such as ‘ninja’ or ‘wizard’ tend to lower the number of female applicants too. The same applied to female-dominated roles. Gender bias adverts here frequently use words such as ‘thoughtful’, ‘dependable’, ‘flexible’ and ‘multi-tasking’.

Research has also found that women are unlikely to apply unless they meet 100% of the requirements, so it’s a good idea for companies to introduce more ‘desired’ attributes and less ‘must haves’ in the job advert.

Gender-neutral language is good for business
Recently, the Institute for Apprentices (IfA) said it would begin trialing a new system using gender-neutral language to encourage women to apply for apprenticeships in traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) industries such as tech and construction. Female representation within these sectors currently sits at just 9%. Some experts believe here that the use of gender-neutral language can result in an increase in recruiting women of as much as 40%.

Blind CVs can help as they remove the initial bias that can affect judgement. There are other tools out there that can help recruiters be more gender-neutral. These include Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder – an online tool that helps identify forms of unconscious gender bias in a job advert. AI platforms are also being developed to remove gender bias and help recruiters hone in on talent with the right characteristics to succeed in the role.

Using gender-neutral language is about more than simply being politically correct, it can actually increase the number and quality of applications you receive – according to ZipRecruiter, by up to 42%. At the end of the day, companies that don’t use gender-neutral language will inevitably lose out and become less competitive in their marketplace. Is that a risk you want to take?

Ultimately, if you want to make the most out of recruiting the right candidates, take the extra time to edit your description and make sure you’re keeping the doors wide open. Zoek UK offers the perfect tool for employers to produce an effective job description and attract relevant candidates.

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