Why gender-neutral language improves recruitment ads

As a recruiter or line manager, you want to be able to select from a shortlist of quality candidates. In order to achieve this, you’ll need a recruitment process that attracts from the widest pool of talent. However, if this process doesn’t feature language that reflects gender-neutrality in your job ads, you are already losing good people before they even apply. This article explains why gender-neutral language matters in recruitment ads - and includes details of how to get our new guide ‘How to write a gender-neutral job advert’.

1. The danger of unconscious bias

While recruiters will already be aware not to use obvious gender references, such as ‘he’ or ‘she’ in recruitment ads, gender bias often occurs unconsciously. That’s because the danger lies in the gender preferences that come with certain words and the impact this has on candidates. For example, words such as ‘competitive’, ‘active’ and ‘confident’ are more likely to appeal to male candidates, and deter female candidates. Likewise, words like ‘support’, ‘nurture’ and ‘communicate’ are examples of female-gender words.

The same goes for phrasing. If you use language such as ‘We’re looking for a strong…’, or ‘candidates who are aggressive’ etc – this will attract more male applicants, while females are more likely to respond to phrases like ‘nurture and connect with customers’, and ‘build relationships’. It’s worth putting in the effort to think about language and phrasing. It’s called unconscious bias for a reason, we don’t realise it’s happening.

2. The impact of getting it right - and wrong

Research by augmented writing pioneers Textio has found that gender-neutral recruitment language fills jobs 14 days faster than posts with a masculine or feminine bias. Research by LinkedIn found that while men usually apply for a role after they judge they meet about 60 per cent of the requirements, women are more likely to feel they need to meet 100 per cent of the criteria. Therefore, overly bullet-pointed criteria based job ads may be one reason why women usually screen themselves out of the process and apply for 20 per cent less jobs once they have read the job advert.  

3. The business case for gender-neutrality

A lack of gender-neutral job copy could be making your organisation less competitive. A survey by McKinsey examining diversity in the workplace found that those companies that are more gender-neutral perform better in the market place with profits of 15% above their respective national industry medians. What’s more, Glassdoor found that 67% of job seekers said that a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers. A failure to attract a diverse candidate pool carries risks that the organisation isn’t going to appeal to a sizeable proportion of the future workforce.

4. Some pointers on gender-neutrality in your recruitment ads

We’ve already mentioned being wary of the gender preferences linked to certain words. In addition, remember that not everyone will have all the skills they need but could, with some training, be very good hires. So, by removing some of the ‘nice to haves’ you may have listed in your ads you de-risk putting some people off who could have interpreted these as essentials and not applied.

Many candidates from diverse backgrounds, including women who may wish to work part-time or more flexibly, will be attracted to the benefits on offer. If you offer benefits that will make certain groups feel more like your organisation and culture is for them – don’t waste the opportunity of including them.

5. In conclusion

Research has shown that the language used in job ads can have a powerful effect on application rates. Get the gender balance right and you’ll encourage both women and men to apply. Get it wrong and you risk losing quality people there and then.

We’ve written our new guide ‘How to write a gender neutral job advert’ to help you make that all important job ad work as hard as it can. You’ll discover how to write better job ads and what you need to know to stop talented candidates going elsewhere.

To get your copy please contact the London or Bristol branch.

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