Skip to main content

If hiring managers and senior-level executives are committed to improving diversity in the workplace, they might need to first look at their hiring descriptions. According to a new report released by LinkedIn, language used in job postings can have an impact on attracting a more gender-diverse set of applicants.

A survey of full-time employees not involved in hiring or recruiting shows that 44 per cent of female respondents would be discouraged from applying for a role if “aggressive” was mentioned in the job description. For men, only 33 per cent would be discouraged from applying.

“Choice of that one particular word has a marked reaction across genders,” says Chris Brown, the Canadian director of talent solutions at LinkedIn. “Word choice is an influence on whether a company attracts a diverse or gender-balanced workforce or not.”

The survey also shows that only 25 per cent of Canadian respondents always consider gender when drafting copy for job advertisements while 50 per cent never consider gender. Addressing gender bias in job advertisements can happen through a review process, but this occurs among only 47 per cent of Canadian respondents involved in hiring and recruiting. Among business owners conducting their own recruiting and hiring, the rate is even lower at 22 per cent.

Marina Harris, chief people officer of online investment manager Wealthsimple, says companies should take advantage of tools that can address language use and eliminate biases in hiring.

She points to Textio Hire, a writing technology platform that flags language that could be gender-biased and suggests neutral alternatives. Exhaustive, enforcement and fearless are just some of the words that Textio has identified as skewing towards male applicants. “The more that we use Textio, we're finding that leaders are starting to learn about how to write those job descriptions in ways that are more attractive broadly, without having to even lean on the toolset,” Ms. Harris says. To further attract a wider range of applicants, Ms. Harris also uses a tool called Unbiasify, a Chrome extension that works with websites like LinkedIn, Twitter and AngelList (a hiring platform for startups) to remove personal identifiers such as names and photographs. “That starts to remove the bias early on,” she says.

Once a job is posted, Mr. Brown at LinkedIn recommends tracking a posting’s analytics to see whether there is a gender skew in interest. If analytic tools aren’t available, hiring managers can also track gender as applications come in.

A bias toward one gender in the application pool may be a flag to look closer at the listed perks and benefits. According to the LinkedIn report, women are slightly more likely to factor in flexible working hours (59 per cent of women, compared to 49 per cent of men) and medical and dental coverage (45 per cent of women, compared to 35 per cent of men). A survey conducted by Mumsnet, a parenting advice website in the United Kingdom, showed that 66 per cent of women avoid asking about parental leave policies during an interview.

Instead, Mr. Brown suggests hiring managers be transparent about policies on flexible work, medical coverage and parental leave in their job advertisements. “[It] removes the need for the candidate to ask about it, which can then influence bias perceptions.”

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct