How to remove bias from job ads

Jobs advertisements create an important first impression for candidates. A job ad is often seen as a reflection of an organisation, and it’s vital that job ads attract, rather than deter, quality talent.  

If you are having trouble finding the right candidate or a certain number of great applicants you may want to consider whether you are inadvertently disconnecting top candidates from a role due to bias.

What is bias?

Bias is when there is an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group. Often bias is unconscious – it tends to come from stereotypes, beliefs, attitudes and opinions we have but that we are unaware of. 

“Unconscious bias happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick decisions,” says Nicola Laver, SEEK’s Associate Client Training Manager. “When it comes to a job advertisement there is a chance that bias happens prior to writing the ad.” 

Laver suggests reading through job ads carefully before they go live to ensure employers pick up on any bias and convey their commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse workforce. 

Signs of bias in job ads

Laver says there are particular things employers can focus on when looking to uncover unconscious bias in job ads.

Organisational terminology

“Have you removed company jargon from your ad?” Laver asks. Using jargon can turn off or distance potential candidates because it disadvantages those who don’t share the same highly specialised vocabulary. SEEK research shows that job seekers prefer ads that have clear, direct and simple language.  

Similarly, while you might want to use fun and playful words in your job ad, these too can send a subtle message to applicants about whether or not a candidate is a good fit. “Conveying quirkiness can also create a bias,” says Laver.

Stereotypes

A crucial step in ensuring inclusive hiring practices is being aware that stereotypes play a role in inequity. “Not all women are nurses - they can be engineers and a foreperson working on a construction site,” says Laver. Laver suggests ensuring a role is gender neutral by using language that is not associated with stereotypical attributes. 

Gendered job titles

According to Laver, employers need to be mindful of the job titles they use in advertisements. “We still see gendered role titles being advertised - Foreman, Salesman and even Girl Friday, she says. “These titles can be perceived as discrimination or even stereotyping. Do women [automatically] make great nurses and men are great engineers? I would suggest this is not true.”

Overly long job ads

“We've recently learnt at SEEK through our analytics that anything over six bullet points can be a turn off for female candidates,” says Laver. Women don’t tend to apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified (whereas men are happy to apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications). Keeping your job ad concise means you’ll have the best chance of attracting quality candidates. 

Inclusion of volume-based application insights

Seeing how many other candidates have applied for a job has an impact on whether or not a jobseeker applies for a role - particularly for women. SEEK research shows that where there were lots of applicants for a role females (Australia & NZ) were 47% less likely to apply.

Adjectives matter

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found job ads in male-dominated fields, such as software programming, tended to use masculine-themed words such as ‘lead’, ‘compete’ and ‘dominate’ at a much higher rate than job ads in female-dominated fields. 

Importantly, the inclusion of such words meant that those job listings were less appealing to women. 

Using gendered adjectives in your advertisements can inadvertently signal to particular people that they would not be a good fit within your organisation. 

Examples of masculine words include:

  • ‘independent’
  • ‘lead’
  • ‘competitive’
  • ‘assertive’
  • ‘determined’
  • ‘analytical’

Examples of feminine words include:

  • ‘responsible’
  • ‘connect’
  • ‘dedicated’
  • ‘support’
  • ‘sociable’
  • ‘conscientious’

While you may still want your candidates to be dedicated or independent, culling these gender-laden adjectives from your job ad will give you a much better chance of benefiting from 100% of the talent pool.

“Keep using action words in your job ad,” says Laver. “It gives your candidates a sense of connection. People want to feel like you're talking to them.”

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