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Removing Bias from Job Descriptions and Adverts

7 months ago by Gravitas Recruitment Group
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Diversity, equity and inclusion has firmly been on the business agenda for a number of years now. However, over the last 5 years there has been a shift away from equal opportunities to a focus more on equity, and the true recognition of the benefits a diverse culture can bring to an organisation.

Our consultants often get asked to help attract and engage diverse talent to support DEI strategies. To do so, eliminating conscious and unconscious bias from the recruitment process is crucial, and this starts with a focus on your job descriptions and adverts.

Despite growing awareness, research has shown that significant bias still exists. One study, looked at 77,000 adverts to detect gender-coded words and found that, on average, there were 6 male or female coded words per job advert.

Whilst there are still cases of conscious bias, as this article on a shockingly racist advert in the USA shows, much of the bias is usually unconscious. Regardless, it results in discrimination against whole groups of applicants, at best deterring them from applying to jobs, at worst excluding them from the process entirely. This affects a company’s ability to recruit, and therefore retain, diverse talent in the workplace.

With the benefits clear, what can you do to ensure that your own job descriptions remain unbiased? In this blog we share five key steps to take.

  • Focus on the purpose of the job

  • Scrutinise the main requirements of the job

  • Focus on ‘culture add’ instead of ‘culture fit’

  • Review the tone and language used

  • Consider using diverse formats

Focus on the purpose of the job

Many people write a job description based on the type of person they think would be able to do the role. This relies on subjectivity which is likely to lead to unconscious bias and be reflected in the way the description is written too.

We have found that a better strategy is to reflect on the purpose of the role and the outcomes you want the successful person to achieve and would always ask this question of the hiring person. This helps to mitigate any preconceived ideas you may have about the right person, enable you to write a more effective specification and really understand what an individual needs to be able to do to do the job successfully.

Scrutinise the main requirements of the job

Often job descriptions contain a long list of essential qualities or experience required. However, we would advise you to think carefully about your ‘essentials’. For example, stating that you need somebody to be able to type when there is voice recognition software available, may deter a person with a disability who is unable or struggles to type, from applying. In the same way that stating a person needs to have ‘native English’ rather than be ‘English-speaking’ may deter other applicants.

Likewise, a high number of ‘must haves’ in itself could be creating bias. This article on eliminating gender bias by Glassdoor suggests limiting and reviewing the number of requirements to get better engagement. Numerous sources have also stated that women are less likely to apply for roles where they don’t meet 100% of the requirements. Whilst there is some confusion as to where these figures have come from, recent research shows men are more likely to be over-confident in their abilities when considering job suitability.

Focus on ‘culture add’ instead of ‘culture fit’

Culture fit is something that, until more recently, we were often asked for when screening a job applicant. In fact, not so long ago, it was even commonplace for a recruiter to be asked to only submit individuals from ‘Oxbridge’ or ‘Redbrick’ universities for certain roles.

Thankfully times have changed, and most businesses recognise that employing someone specifically based on where they completed their education, is not the best strategy for ensuring heterogeneity within a business, let alone for knowing if that the person can meet the objectives of a role.

A key part of organisational culture is team cohesion; however it is important not to confuse having the same interests, behavioural traits or supporting the same football team, with the sharing of the same core values, principles or purpose. Hiring for culture fit risks creating monocultures with people who all think and act in the same way, the exact opposite of what diversity is trying to achieve. Many organisations are now switching to hiring for ‘culture add’, instead focusing on the benefits an individual can bring to a culture.

Review the tone and language used

There are several laws which prohibit the use of discriminatory language in job descriptions or adverts, however, as stated above, much of the bias that exists today is unconscious and often manifests through the language and the tone used.

Recent research found that many job adverts deterred those aged 40 or above from applying for jobs. This was due to the language and tone. For example, phrases like ‘recent graduates’ or ’10 years’ experience’ are likely to indicate that younger people or those with specific educational background are required.

Likewise, research has shown that some words are more associated with certain genders so being careful to minimise the use of gender-coded words is important. For example, masculine-coded words might be considered competitive, dominate, aggressive, and challenge; feminine-coded words could include loyal, collaborative, understanding, and encouraging. Instead use language that is neutral and inclusive. Also ensure that your job title isn’t promoting gender bias, e.g. ‘salesman’, and be aware that racial bias can arise from traditional words or phrases such as ‘blacklist’ or ‘ninja’.

Luckily there are a plethora of AI focused tools now out there to help you screen for any biases in language or tone, or indeed help eliminate them from the whole recruitment process.

Consider using diverse formats

Accessibility is key. There is no point spending your efforts and time addressing biases in your job description, if the formats you use exclude whole groups of people due to accessibility issues.

Making your job descriptions available in large print, Braille, audio, video or paper-based (if online only) will help to ensure a wide range of talent can access them. Ensure that your videos have accurate subtitles and if online that accessibility standards are met. The British Dyslexia Association suggest you think about your styling-fonts, colours etc.

As you can see, there are a number of considerations you need to make when focusing on removing bias in job descriptions or adverts. At Gravitas we consult with hiring managers daily, not only on creating inclusive job descriptions but by ensuring that your job descriptions are optimised for attracting the best tech talent.

Do you need help hiring diverse tech talent?

If you need help creating a targeted hiring strategy that considers DEI, contact our team and we would be happy to help.

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