How to write gender neutral job descriptions

Gender equality is something that all organizations should strive for. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business! Here are a few reasons why gender equality should be top of mind for every organization: 

  • Gender equality boosts morale and engagement. According to Fast Company, organizations with above average gender diversity had higher levels of employee engagement than companies with below average diversity by 46% to 58%.
  • Gender equality breeds innovation. According to HBR, companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues.
  • Gender equality positively impacts your bottom line. According to McKinsey, the most gender diverse companies are 21% more likely to experience above average profitability.

So, now that you understand the business case for gender equity in the workplace, the next step is to get more women in the door! An achievable first step you can take to improve your talent attraction efforts is to update your job postings. This is because your job postings are one of the first interactions a candidate has with your organization, so it’s important they’re presented in a way that doesn’t feel exclusive, uncomfortable, or discriminatory.

However, oftentimes gender biases are unconscious, which can make them tricky to spot and address. That’s why today, we’re sharing tips so that you can write more intentional, gender neutral job descriptions.

  1. Ditch third-person pronouns

    An easy first step to writing a gender-neutral job description is to remove gendered pronouns such as he/she and him/her. Instead, we suggest using “they/them,” or even better, use “you!”

    Using second-person pronouns like “you”, “your” or “you’ll,” is a great way to put the candidate first and help potential employees envision themselves in the role.

  1. Include salary and benefits information

    A job description heatmap study by LinkedIn revealed that knowing how much a job pays is considerably more important for women. When an employer shares salary ranges in their job postings, this could be seen as a signal that they’re committed to transparency and fair pay regardless of gender or background. In addition, showcasing the other aspects of your total compensation package, like flexible work policies, parental leaves, and healthcare benefits is also important.

  1. Only list essential requirements

    According to research by LinkedIn, women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria to apply for a job, while men usually apply after meeting about 60%. One way to avoid this is by omitting “nice to have” qualifications from your job description and sticking to must-haves.

    For example, seniority requirements can sometimes perpetuate imbalances since historically there have been fewer women in senior roles. Instead of focusing on qualifications (e.g. “must have 5 years of experience in a similar role”), you can cover the objectives that the hire will be expected to achieve (e.g. “you will increase our NPS score amongst customers by 5%”) or highlight the specific experience you’re looking for (e.g. “extensive experience developing complex software using Java, Spring Boot, and Google Cloud Platform”).

    Framing your job description this way can not only potentially increase the number of women-identifying applicants, but you’ll also likely receive more qualified applicants — a win-win!

  1. Remove gender-coded words

    Gender-coded words are words that have certain associations with male or female characteristics at a subconscious level due to stereotypes and socialization. In 2011, psychologists from the University of Waterloo and Duke University published a research paper that examined the use of gendered wording in job ads and the impact of the language on female and male candidates. The study found that women were less likely to apply for jobs when job ads include male-coded words.

    This study was recently reinforced by Appcast, who found that using gender-coded words in job advertising not only negatively impacts the diversity of qualified candidates that apply, but can also cost more.

    A gender neutral job description can be defined as a job description that is absent of gender-coded words. Below is a list of examples of male and female coded words.

Examples of male-coded words:

  • Active
  • Adventurous
  • Aggressive
  • Ambitious
  • Assertive
  • Autonomy
  • Challenge
  • Competitive
  • Decisive

Examples of female-coded words:

  • Affectionate
  • Cheerful
  • Committed
  • Compassionate
  • Connected
  • Considerate
  • Cooperative
  • Empathetic

For a full list of the words, you can take a look at Appendix A of the Duke and University of Waterloo study.

You can also look into investing in an augmented writing tool to help you out here. Tools like Textio help companies create more inclusive job descriptions that attract a higher number of diverse applicants.

So if you want to make your company more gender diverse and inclusive, then it’s important to start with identifying and removing the bias in your job descriptions. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense!

If you’re interested in learning about more actions you can take to improve your overall DEI efforts, check out our blog 5 steps to kick start your DEI strategy in 2021. 

About ML6

ML6 is a recruitment and talent advisory firm located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). We provide customized solutions to support our clients throughout the employee lifecycle. We help our clients attract and retain talent by advising on people programs, processes, and best practice