The Twitter-sphere generated a host of anecdotal evidence of the effect of job description language on female applicants when a Tweeter posted the question “If you’re a woman or minority in your field, what language turns you away from job descriptions?”. From “rockstar” to “work hard play hard,” hundreds of replies voiced examples of off-putting language that has become increasingly common in job descriptions.
In 2011, Aaron Kay from Duke University and Danielle Gaucher and Justin Friesen from University of Waterloo released a seminal study demonstrating that subtle wording differences in job descriptions can affect who applies for a given job. The researchers found that including more feminine-themed language in a job description, or minimizing masculine-themed language in a job description results in greater interest among potential female applicants.
Consider the differences between these two variations on a sentence in the same registered nurse job description:
“We are determined to deliver superior medical treatment tailored to each individual patient.”
“We are committed to providing top quality health care that is sympathetic to the needs of our patients.”
We know that individuals considering applying for a job are looking as much in a job description for clues about a company's environment as they are at the role itself. For example, a woman reading a job description boasting a company's "beer Thursdays" or foosball competitions may assume a company is most friendly to people from a certain type of background. Use Unitive's wording tips to create a job description that better conveys to your potential applicants: "We are a company that values all kinds of people".
To expand on the list of terms that Dr. Kay published as “masculine” and "feminine", Unitive has surveyed thousands of participants on the gender-leanings of the most commonly used terms in job descriptions on the web today. We help you look out for these words by labeling terms “inclusive” and “problematic.” Keep in mind that when Dr. Kay’s team looked at the effect of job descriptions with an inordinate number of feminine words, men’s interest in applying for those jobs went unchanged; in other words it is likely that you can’t add too many inclusive terms. Also, you don’t need to get rid of all uses of the problematic terms, just add inclusive terms to counterbalance them so that you achieve an overall balance of inclusive and problematic language.