Removing Language Bias from Job Descriptions

RoleMapper Team

May 31, 2022

In a competitive hiring market, you want to ensure your job descriptions are resonating across the widest talent pool possible. However, according to research from Harvard Business School andAccenture, in the US alone there are 27 million ‘hidden workers’ who’ve been left out of the jobs market.


The reason for this lies mainly in job descriptions and the language used in job descriptions and job adverts. More often than not, when it comes to defining or creating a role it’s usually a manual process of getting the words and content on a page, which then gets replicated in a job advert.

Job adverts are also failing to reach wider audiences because of scope creep and unnecessary requirements. However, the key element at play here is inclusive language. The language you use in a job description can significantly impact job applications and the type of candidates you attract.


When you look at the patterns and behaviours of potential candidates looking at a job description, you can see there’s a gap between communication and action, which gets wider if you’re struggling to attract more diverse employees.


Gendered language

Detailed studies by Gaucher and Friesen across a sample of job adverts found that subtle but systematic differences in wording had an influence on whether men or women applied for a role. They found there were words that were stereotypically masculine and stereotypically feminine.


The research also outlined that men and women react at an unconscious level to masculine-coded or feminine-coded words, with gendered words having the greatest impact on women as they are less likely to identify with jobs that are stereotypically masculine.


As a result, masculine-coded words used in a job posting reduces the likelihood of a woman applying for a role. The reason for this is because it can be a signifier that women do not fit or belong in that job.


Gaucher and Friesen also found that job ads for traditionally male-dominated roles consequently used more masculine wording, such as ‘leader’ and ‘competitive’, which, in turn, meant that women saw these jobs as less appealing. Masculine words such as ‘drive’,‘competitiveness’ or ‘assertiveness’ may also deter women. It’s subtle and subconscious but tremendously powerful.

 LinkedIn research found that more definitive terms, such as 'ambitious' or 'high-pressured' were off-putting: 44%of women would even be discouraged from applying for a role if the word ‘aggressive’ was included in a job description – only a third of men felt the same.


Gendered words have the greatest impact on women. As a result, limiting masculine words will encourage more women to apply. For example:

  • Dominant
  • Assertive
  • Competitive
  • Ninja
  • Blackbelt

Gaucher and Friesen’s research also saw that using more female-focused language did not put men off from applying for a role. Include the following words more frequently in your job descriptions to attract more female applicants:

  • Cooperative
  • Collaborative
  • Interpersonal
  • Trust
  • Team

The impact of language on your talent pipeline

 Not only does gendered language have an impact, but a recent study from Business in the Community and the City & Guilds Group uncovered that confusing, jargon-heavy job descriptions are a ‘major barrier’ for young job seekers. So much so, 66%of young people, who assessed a pool of company vacancies, didn’t understand the role they would be applying for.


Gendered themed words have the greatest effect on women - women are less likely to identify with jobs that are stereotypically masculine.


Impenetrable ‘business-speak’ makes entry level candidates unsure about the role and its responsibilities, as well as whether the job was actually suitable for them. Asa result, removing jargon, acronyms and technical language - like ‘SLAs’, ‘procurement’ and ‘KPIs’ - from job descriptions makes it less likely that early career applicants will feel intimidated.


Language and readability

Job descriptions with low readability levels can also impact hiring. People spend around six seconds reviewing a job advert, so the need to be succinct and to-the-point is vital.


Instead, keep them to around 700 words with sentences averaging 17 words, this helps keep people engaged. Bullet points and headings also make it easy for people to skim read while picking up the most important information.


Job descriptions with too many or overly complex responsibilities are likely to put people off applying. And long wish-lists of deliverables and requirements makes it difficult for applicants to map experience and skills.


People spend around six seconds reviewing a job advert. The need to be succinct is crucial.


Instead, segment responsibilities and summarise the role in four or five bullet points. Then, using language that’s easy to understand and jargon-free, concisely explain the responsibilities of the role.


Automate and debias job descriptions to be truly inclusive

The language you use in your job descriptions can have a significant impact on the talent you attract. By automating job description creation and ensuring the language used is fully inclusive, you can widen your talent pool and tap into hidden job markets.


RoleMapper fully automates this process and helps debias language through the use of bias flags that  support users as they go through the job creation process. Skills and requirements checkers also help you create the right content to attract the best talent.


In a competitive hiring market, the need to widen that talent pool, be more inclusive and show flexibility is more important than ever. Now is the time for action.


Understanding the right language to use can be fraught with complexities, which is why, to help you, we’ve created aGendered Language Directory (add hyperlink).


Download our Gendered Language Directory