When we talk about removing bias from the recruiting process, we often talk about developing innovative new ways to conduct interviews or replacing the traditional resume-and-interview process with something like a skills test that makes the process less dependent on the hiring manager’s subjective judgment and inherent biases—or even partly or entirely automating the hiring process.
However, recruiting begins before the candidate sends in their application, and scholars of bias have recently begun to focus on how the language of job ads and recruiter emails may be discouraging women or minorities from applying at all. In an interview at Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, Harvard Kennedy School professor Iris Bohnet, whose work we’ve looked at before, explains how organizations can take the implicit gender bias out of their job ads:
There are two easy key ways to take the gender bias out of job ads, Bohnet says: One, purge the gendered language. Two, limit the number of mandatory qualifications to apply for the job.
In What Works, she cites the example of an elementary school advertising for “a committed teacher with exceptional pedagogical and interpersonal skills to work in a supportive, collaborative work environment.” The potential problem is that “supportive,” “collaborative” and even “committed” are widely associated with femininity, which may detract men from applying. …
Limiting the number of qualifications in a job description is another important way to mitigate job-listing gender bias. Bohnet recommends listing only the skills that are absolutely necessary for the role. Often, job descriptions are designed by a committee of opinionated individuals, resulting in a long laundry list of qualifications, some of which are vital, but many of which are just nice-to-haves. Here’s the problem with that list of nice-to-haves: “Many women won’t apply for a job unless they meet almost all of the listed requirements,” Bohnet says. “Men tend to have a lower threshold for applying.”
Also of interest here is Bohnet’s example of a job ad that inadvertently excludes men. Getting more women in the door may be the primary motivation of corporate gender equality initiatives, but it’s always useful to keep in mind that in the big picture, these initiatives have benefits for employees of all genders.