What do Your Job Listings Reveal About Your Company? Part One: Discriminatory Language

As we become more culturally aware of the many layers and challenges in overcoming discrimination, many candidates are especially sensitive to certain language in job listings and descriptions. Do your listings reveal biases and discrimination?

Many companies have initiatives that actively aim to improve diversity in their companies, and want to build teams that are more representative of their customers and their communities. When these initiatives fall short, many companies are bewildered and frustrated by the lack of diverse candidates, which makes it difficult to build a diverse company. However, many of these same companies don’t realize that their job listings include language and word choices that indicate a preference for certain types of candidates.

While the team members who write job listings may not be intentionally including biased language, potential candidates and applicants have a heightened awareness of these signals, and can interpret them very clearly. Here are some “red flag” terms to be aware of. 

Age Biased Language in Job Listings

Ageism is surprisingly prevalent. When workers enter their fifties, they become increasingly at risk of age discrimination during hiring, or even at risk of losing their current jobs. More than 58% of workers over 50 have experienced age discrimination, and 33% of people over 45 believe their age puts their job in jeopardy (source ).

Older workers are passed over for promotions, excluded from training opportunities, receive less mentorship and development in the workplace, and receive fewer wage increases (source). Surprisingly, age discrimination prevails even when hiring managers consider the more advanced skills and experience of older job applicants. Here are some age-biased terms that often appear in job listings:

  • Job for a “recent graduate” or “college student”. This kind of language indicates an age preference that isn’t relevant to the job function or required skills. 
  • Job for a “digital native”. This term is a shorthand for explaining a broad range of prerequisite skills, but is couched in ageist language.  
  • Terms like “flexibility”, “trainability”, and “creativity”. While these terms are not inherently age biased, older applicants are less likely to be considered for these positions due to stereotypes that older workers are less adaptable, less creative, and resistant to change. 

Gender Biased Language in Job Listings

The gender pay gap persists, year after year, where the work of women is treated as less valuable than the work of men. In addition, women are 30% less likely to be considered during the hiring process, and women with children are 35.9% less likely to receive a job interview than fathers (source). Although gender diversity is a strong predictor of a company’s success, it remains a problem during hiring. Here are some gender-coded terms in job listings:

  • Gender-coded job titles. Titles like “hacker”, “guru”, “rockstar”, and “superhero” tend to be perceived as male job titles. Use gender-neutral titles like “developer”, “engineer”, “manager”, etc.
  • Mind your verbs. Verbs like “crush” and “dominate” are typically associated with men, while “support” and “nurture” are typically associated with women. 
  • Be mindful of work history requirements. The truth is, the number of women with years of uninterrupted, senior-level leadership positions in large global firms is very small. Often simply expressing a preference for candidates with this kind of experience creates a gender bias. Unless it’s a necessary requirement for the position, eliminate these kinds of work history prerequisites.  

Racially Biased Language in Job Listings

Racial bias remains a pervasive problem in all aspects of the workforce. Instead of being reflected in job listings, racial bias is often applied to a candidate’s personal information, including their name and other personal information. In fact, names that reflect a minority background can cause candidates to receive up to 75% fewer requests for a job interview (source). Here are some job listing terms that often indicate a racial preference:

  • “Native language” requirements. Often requiring that a candidate be a “native” language speaker instead of a “fluent” language speaker is a way of excluding certain applicants. 
  • Educational bias. Many job listings include language like “Ivy League” or “top 10” educational institution bias. While racial bias in university admissions is a whole different subject, this kind of language unnecessarily excludes a more diverse group of candidates. 
  • Avoid benchmarking. When staff are busy and operating under pressure, it is tempting to engage in “benchmarking”, where a previous job listing is used again without evaluation, and staff are seeking a new hire who resembles the person who previously held the position. When you use a previous employee as the benchmark for your new hires, you may be excluding talented candidates for no reason other than their resemblance to the previous employee.

How to Recruit Diverse Candidates

To improve the diversity of your hiring, here are some ways to improve the diversity of your recruitment process.

  • Write job listings carefully. Avoid unconsciously biased language in your job listings and descriptions. Include a meaningful diversity statement in your job listings. Use a third-party tool to review your job listings for biased wording. 
  • Review applicants impartially. Use a “blind” process when evaluating CVs and candidates, removing names and personal identifiers before they are reviewed. Create a structured, impartial, standardized process for reviewing applicants, rather than allowing candidates to be evaluated based on feelings or impulses. 
  • Reconsider how you find candidates. The places where you promote your job listings can also influence who sees and responds to your openings. For more diverse hires, consider placing your job listings on diverse forums, networking groups, and professional associations with a more diverse membership. 

Diversity and inclusion are critical factors that drive the success of today’s businesses. Unconscious bias and benchmarking limit your diversity of candidates, and therefore the diversity of your workforce. For more insights on how to broaden your reach, and recruit great candidates regardless of their personal characteristics, contact grapefrute today.