In IT, the gender diversity problem has shown little sign of improving. In fact, the proportion of women working in technology teams has risen only fractionally in the past year, from 21% to 22%.This is despite studies showing that companies boasting diverse teams are 33% more likely to outperform their peers.
While there are many strategies to improve gender diversity in IT – an overlooked method is to analyse the way job adverts are written. As it stands, many job descriptions in tech and other sectors are putting off female candidates. Here’s what you need to know.
There is a wealth of research to show that the terms used in job adverts can negatively impact diversity. Research from University of Waterloo and Duke University which analysed over 75,000 job ads, found that gender-coded words are still rife within UK job adverts.
The researchers found gender preferences can be conveyed subtly through words. Terms such as ‘active’, ‘competitive’, and ‘dominate’, ‘decisive’, and ‘fearless’ are far more likely to be associated with males (and drive away female candidates), while words like ‘community’, ‘dependable’, ‘responsible’, ‘committed’, empathetic’ and ‘supportive’ are usually regarded as feminine.
So, how can you create gender neutral adverts?
To avoid any unconscious bias and attract female candidates it is wise to review vocabulary on all tech job adverts. This can be tricky, but there are a range of tools that can scan adverts for bias. Balancing the number of gendered terms can produce striking results.
According to Textio, using gender-neutral language fills jobs 14 days faster than posts with a masculine or feminine bias. When Australian software giant Atlassian used augmented text software for its job adverts, the results were striking – an 80% increase in the hiring of women in technical roles.
Companies should avoid excessive use of superlatives. Terms such as ‘expert,’ ‘superior,’ ‘world class’ can turn off female candidates who are more collaborative than competitive. Research also shows that women are less likely than men to brag about accomplishments.
Also, while it may seem like an obvious point, it’s important to include balanced gender pronouns – for instance, when describing the tasks of the ideal candidate, use ‘S/he’ or ‘you.’ Example: ‘As Product Manager for XYZ, you will be responsible for setting the product vision and strategy.’
Structure is also important. Research shows the amount of bulleted content in your job description affects the proportion of female candidates in your applicant pool. If you have too many bulleted lists, fewer women will apply. Conversely if you have too few bulleted lists, a lower number of men will apply. The ideal balance, they say, is one-three bullet lists per job ad.
While presenting an exhaustive list of requirements in a job description may seem like an appropriate way to ensure jobseekers understand your expectations, this can also have a negative impact on diversity.
A Hewlett Packard report found that men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of qualifications, whereas women will apply only if they meet 100% of them - meaning an extensive list of requirements could contribute to a fall in female applicants.
Shout about your organisation
Make it clear that diversity is a priority for your organisation. Include your D&I statement in job adverts or offer a link to your website. If your organisation offers great staff benefits, such as flexible working or a great maternity package, make sure you mention those. Finally, ensure all images represent a diverse range of people which promotes inclusion.
Change is coming
While the there is a long way to go to achieve true gender diversity in the tech sector – ensuring job descriptions are not unwittingly discouraging applications from female candidates will help companies start addressing historic disparities.