How Linguistics Can Help Attract More Women and Minority Job Candidates

How Linguistics Can Help Attract More Women and Minority Job Candidates

Diversity-conscious organizations are well aware of the unique challenges posed by unconscious and implicit bias, but some may not realize how deeply ingrained these biases are, right down to the language we use in work conversations, interviews, and job ads. In an effort to help companies attract a more diverse pool of applicants, several startups have developed technological solutions that combine the theory of linguistics with the power of big data to identify the words and phrases that discourage women and minorities from applying. TL Andrews profiles two leaders in this field at Quartz:

Textio has helped companies increase female job applicants by 23% compared to previous hiring rounds. (The software also draws in 25% more candidates overall who are qualified to make it to the interview round.) Kieran Snyder, co-founder of Textio, says they are able to get these results by eliminating phrases in job ads such as “coding ninja” or “fast-paced work environment,” which tend to attract mostly white males. To replace these terms, the tool suggests inclusive phrases such as “collaborative” that appeal to a broader range of potential employees. …

Talent Sonar, another company that aims to improve diversity through technology, use thousands of surveys to figure out prevalent associations with words and recommend alternatives. “From birth our brains are forming neural pathways that relate every word to the various images that are associated with that word,” says Laura Mather, co-founder of Talent Sonar. For example, the word “competitive” is often associated with a picture of a sports team (usually male, often white), so the brain makes a connection between the word and the picture. This means that when non-male/white candidates see that word in a job description, they will subconsciously not imagine themselves in the image the company is presenting, and be less likely to apply.

By testing words to see how they influence people’s responses to job descriptions, Talent Sonar is trying to expose dominant neural pathways.

We’ve looked before at Textio’s insight into how jargon-heavy recruiter emails can signal a lack of diversity in an organization and serve as red flags for women and minority candidates. Harvard Kennedy School professor Iris Bohnet has also looked at this problem in her research and found that another way organizations can improve the diversity of their applicant pool by limiting the number of mandatory qualifications they list for a position. And of course, unless you want to give would-be employees an image of a male-dominated office culture, retire the sports metaphors.