How to Remove Gender Bias From Your Job Advert

3 min read · By Academic Positions · Published 2 years ago

Thanks to global social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, conversations around diversity, inclusion, and equality are at the forefront of most universities. Deans and department heads are taking a hard look at the demographic makeup of their communities. 

Creating a more diverse organization is not just important to be inclusive, but it can also produce stronger research and increased discoveries. When research teams are more diverse, it influences both the questions asked and the scientific approaches to seeking answers. Mathias Wullum Nielsen who studies gender in science at Aarhus University in Denmark notes, “The question is no longer what the benefits of diversity are, but how we can best support the potential benefits of diversity,” 

One of the best ways to achieve greater diversity at your university starts with attracting a diverse applicant pool. While your university’s reputation and cultural history certainly play a role in attracting certain candidates, your job advert can make a big difference in recruiting more women and people of marginalized gender. 

Here are four ways to upgrade your job advert to remove gender bias.

1. Use gender neutral language

Using gender neutral language is particularly important in the description of the job. Avoiding pronouns is fairly obvious when trying to remove any gender bias but adjectives should be carefully considered as well. Iris Bohnet, Harvard professor and author of the book What Works: Gender Equality by Design, says, “based on data analytics on the kinds of jobs men and women apply for, research shows that the adjectives matter.” 

There is quite a bit of research from the last decade or so about gender-charged adjectives and their role in deterring women from applying for certain positions. In a widely published study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers Danielle Gaucher and Justin Friesen from the University of Waterloo and Aaron Kay of Duke University found certain adjectives to be more masculine than others. These adjectives (like decisive and determined) tend to discourage people of marginalized gender from applying. Women respond more positively to descriptions that promote support and cooperation over competition. To keep your job descriptions gender neutral, be mindful of the adjectives you use. 

Stick to factual words that describe the position and the skills necessary to do the job. Avoid unnecessary superlatives and commonly used, problematic gendered words like “manpower.” There are several websites and apps that will run scans on the text of your advert and flag potential problems. Use them!

2. Limit requirements

It can be tempting to want to list every possible desired characteristic in your job advert. After all, you want the most qualified candidates and those with the most impressive experiences. Unfortunately by aiming for the perfect ideal, you may be missing out on exactly what you need

It’s often quoted that women only apply to jobs when they meet 100% of the qualifications while men apply when they meet only 60%. While this may have been true for one study, it does not tell the whole story. In a Harvard Business Review article, Tara Sophia Mohr took a deeper dive into this statistic. She found that it wasn’t that women lacked confidence, but rather a more strict adherence to rules. “What held [women] back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process.” Most women believe that the requirements listed, were in fact required.

Instead of a lengthy bullet pointed list of requirements, take a critical look at the skills and qualities absolutely necessary versus those that are preferred, but not critical to performing the job. Chances are, it will also help you clarify exactly the type of person you need to fill the role. 

3. State family friendly benefits

Universities and academic institutions have not had the best reputations when it comes to helping female academics with families feel supported. Mary Ann Mason, a co-author of the book, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, writes, “The most important finding [of our research] is that family formation negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, academic careers…And women who do advance through the faculty ranks do so at a high price. They are far less likely to be married with children.” 

Universities with extensive family-friendly policies need to advertise and publicize these benefits as they are critical for attracting more female applicants and ultimately reducing the gender gap in academia. Researchers from the University of Colorado who studied the impact of parenthood on academic research and found that among the majority of those surveyed “ignorance of their institution’s current parental leave policy was not uncommon.”

By explicitly stating your institution’s family-friendly policies in your job advert, more women (and people with families) should be encouraged to apply. These policies can include parental leave, campus child care, family friendly events, and flexible hours. As the Center for Women’s Education at the University of Michigan writes, “research suggests that institutions that do not accommodate family caregiving suffer in the competitive academic workplace.”  Ensure your university is attracting top female talent by mentioning these policies in the job advert. 

4. Express commitment to diversity

Like the inclusion of your university’s family-friendly policies, expressing your community’s commitment to diversity is an easy and quick way to make an important statement. This does not have to be lengthy but it will make all potential applicants feel included and encouraged to apply.  The more specific you can be, the better. For example, by explicitly stating how you will improve — like increasing female faculty by a certain percentage — will not just state your commitment but show it. 

Attracting more female job applicants in academia is important. With dedicated attention to the language and content of your job advert, you can increase your chances of appealing to a wider group of diverse applicants.


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