Achieving workplace diversity can feel like a struggle. Are your job descriptions part of the problem?
Creating a diverse, vibrant and equal workplace is far from an easy task. The unique challenges faced by women and minorities are well documented. Yet despite this awareness, we still frequently see a lack of diversity, particularly in leadership roles.
Many industries are still male-dominated, despite the fact that women comprise around 47 percent of the modern workforce. In fact, the United States Department of Labor estimated that while 74 percent of human resources management roles are occupied by females, the female contingent of CEOs is 27 percent.
Surprisingly, one major contributing factor to the lack of diversity in so many roles is the presence of bias in the job descriptions that advertise them. With so much emphasis placed on the need to choose the right person for the right job, it’s surprising to many that we could be unconsciously skewing the gender dynamics of applicants from the outset, simply by how we word our job descriptions.
It begs an obvious question: Are your job descriptions biased?
Forms of Bias in Job Descriptions
While a simple job description may seem too innocuous to pose any kind of bias, research has demonstrated two forms that are present: Implicit bias and explicit bias.
The former are those we are not consciously aware of, such as stereotypes, and beliefs developed over time as a result of experience. The latter, explicit bias, is a type we are aware of and able to control. Racial bias, for example, is one form of explicit bias.
While explicit bias is generally easy to identify in a job description, implicit bias is a little more subtle and is often called unconscious bias, due to the lack of awareness surrounding it.
While Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations have made explicit bias for men and women illegal, biased job adverts still exist. There are more subtle ways of expressing a preference for a candidate's gender. Word choices can create a less blatant, but still biased impression of gender preference.
The use of biased wording in job advertising changes the perceptions of candidates when it comes to the diversity of a prospective workplace. A biased ad will naturally cause diverse candidates to avoid the position. This leads to a loss of talent for the team and a loss for any initiatives striving to improve diversity in the workplace.
Ultimately, it results in a loss for the company, as diverse teams have a positive correlation to better financial performance.
The Research on Gender Bias
A series of studies into the evidence for gendered wording have demonstrated that gender-biased language is still a problem in job descriptions.
The researchers concluded that the dominance of men in particular fields and their association with particular traits, such as agency, would lead female candidates to avoid applying for roles calling for male-associated skills and traits.
Other Forms of Bias in Job Descriptions
While gender bias is certainly the most thoroughly researched form in job descriptions, it’s not the only one. With such well-established research into the cause and effect relationship seen in gender bias, it’s possible to see similar dynamics at work where other forms of discrimination are concerned.
Cultural references are often tricky to spot in job ads and may seem completely harmless at first glance. Yet they can be a form of racial bias if they create an image that is difficult for other ethnicities to identify with.
At best you create the impression of an environment that wouldn’t suit people from different cultural groups. At worst, you give a negative perspective that creates the impression of an environment that would be actively unpleasant for anyone from a different culture.
Having such subtle biases in your job descriptions can leave a negative impression on applicants, even if they are not in the group the ad is biased against. For example, many men are uncomfortable in the presence of sexism in the workplace, while many people, in general, would find a racist working environment to be toxic. The wording in your ads can therefore not only put off women and minorities, but it also has the potential to alienate other talented individuals by indicating your company culture is not a desirable one.
Avoiding Unconscious Bias
One effective way of avoiding unconscious biases when creating job descriptions is the involvement of individuals in the process who are women or from other underrepresented groups. The creation of a diversity committee is one great way to achieve this. By including individuals across genders and ethnic groups who collectively review job descriptions, you create an internal approval process that provides perspective prior to publication.
Crafting a Diverse Hiring Approach
Approaching diverse hiring increasingly requires an intentional approach that many companies have never had previously. The recruitment process is problematic enough, without worrying about how diverse your candidates are, and if you’re inadvertently doing anything to prevent their application.
The top priority should be on creating gender-neutral job descriptions and ensuring other forms of bias don’t creep in before the hiring process has even begun.
Modern technological advances in automation and AI continue to change the talent acquisition landscape, and we can easily harness the power of technology as a force for positive change.
Having an awareness of the language used when crafting job descriptions and communicating with candidates is vital. The first step is to use gender-neutral phasing. Also, avoid cultural references, or mentioning concepts and traits that can seem gendered.
You might also consider using the power of language to go one step further. Consider the dynamics at work in your team. Where are the gaps? Are you suffering from a lack of female representation, or are male employees dominating your leadership level? Are you aware of the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity within the team?
Identifying groups that are currently missing from your team may actually allow you to create the inverse of a biased job description, by targeting it at those groups you are currently lacking.
Be a little cautious in this approach. The aim, after all, is to avoid bias not create a bias of a different form. You can safely include certain points in job descriptions to demonstrate you have an inclusive work environment that would be welcoming to all. Create a company culture that thrives on diversity, and including a section that briefly paints a picture of that culture.
And that, after all, is what diversity is all about.