How to #BeBoldForChange on this International Women's Day - take care to avoid gender bias in your recruiting.
Recruiting & HR

Gender bias has this really subtle and complex way of influencing the recruitment process. When you’re reading a job ad, every word builds up a picture of who should be in the role. You might see yourself – or perhaps an absolute bro.

Language is instrumental to gender bias. The ins and outs of linguistic biases are obscure, but the impact isn’t.

We know the score.

  • Women earn less than men.
  • They only apply when they’re 100% qualified.
  • And, if they describe their achievements in ‘feminine’ terms, they’re less likely to impress.

So while many women are out there trying to even out the playing field by power suiting up and claiming they “work hard and play harder,” recruiters can do way more to neutralize gender bias.

Recruiting & HR

1. Opt for gender neutral terms

Research indicates that stops women from applying. This is because they can’t see themselves in the job description (despite potentially being right for the role) and they self-select out.

When you write a job advert, read it back and try to visualize someone who has the characteristics needed for the role.

Are they male or female?

Try this test with a few other colleagues. If you keep coming up male . . . well, you may have gender bias on your hands.

Using one or two masculine terms isn’t going to stop women from applying; it’s when they are dominant that problems become present.

Recruiting & HR

So, steer clear of masculine adjectives and terms like:

  • Heroic
  • Pressured
  • Assertive
  • Firm
  • Target focused
  • Ambitious
  • Rational
  • Strong
  • Sales Driven
  • Linear
  • Objective
  • Fit in
  • Dominate
  • Competitive salary
  • Ninja
  • Takes risks

 

Embrace inclusive, gender-neutral words and terms like:

  • Customer centric
  • Flexible
  • Inquiring
  • Responsive
  • Curious
  • Integrity
  • Self-motivate
  • Enabling
  • Adaptable
  • Resilient
  • Trustworthy
  • Work alongside
  • Relationship building
  • Personal development
  • Ensure results
  • Collaborative working
  • Intuitive
  • Up-to-date
  • Receptive
  • Judgment
  • Socially responsible
  • Imaginative

These are the ones you can sprinkle in your postings as liberally as you like.

And, of course, make sure you don’t actually put gendered pronouns into the ad (“the right candidate will be a real coding ninja, he will demonstrate heroic knowledge in Java, Python or C#… yadda yadda yadda”).

No one needs overt bias when the subtle stuff is so readily in there.

2. Use tech to improve your job ads

You don’t have to rely purely on your own skills; trust tech to aid your learning and improve your ads.

Software like and scan your postings to make sure the text uses inclusive wording – you can even use this tech to check out the wording you use on your websites and the emails you send to recruits.

Textio (which is my fave) is the brainchild of Kieran Snyder and Jensen Harris. Their software is cutting edge, and they’ve conducted a lot of their own research. In a Huffington Post interview, Snyder claims that there “are more than 25,000 potentially that, statistically, have been shown to bias the job listings — either towards males or females.”

3. Use a standard template to evaluate candidates

Using a template is more likely to encourage a fact-based approach to hiring. It not only removes the likelihood of biases from happening, but it can also keep you focused on collecting the data you need to make the best hiring decision.

If you want to take this route, there are a few steps involved:

  1. Identify the key job qualifications (these will be on your ad). For example, good numbers skills or knowledge of certain software.
  2. Develop a few behavior-based questions to assess these qualities. Make sure you use open questions that explicitly ask for examples from their past.
  3. Weigh your questions based on their importance for the role (one is for the essential stuff, two for preferable).
  4. Create criteria for the scoring system. Make sure everyone is on the same page; scoring criteria ensures the process is reliable and accurate. For example, as this table shows:

Recruiting & HR

These are only three of the ways that you can limit gender bias, and there are plenty more!

But if you want to make sure you’re getting the best possible candidates, as well as creating an inclusive working culture, then these three tips are key.

Hannah Spruce is a specialist on social issues and HR at – a leading UK online training provider. She has written along with other articles on topics ranging from recruitment to childhood literacy.

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