Recently I was watching my daughter at an all-girls swimming carnival with over 200 primary school aged girls competing for their schools. The male MC made an announcement “Ok guys- we need you to move back to the covered area”. I asked my 9 year old daughter later that night what she thought of a group of girls being called guys. She said “that’s normal Mum- guys is just a word that means everyone”.
Gender bias in everyday language is so entrenched that we no longer hear it. Historically and currently, there is a dominance of male-related terms in our societies and workplaces. How does this impact gender equity in our organisations?
The impacts of gendered language in job descriptions has a subtle but real impact on women’s self-ascribed perceptions of job fit. Irrespective of skills matches, women eliminate themselves from applying for jobs due to job description cues; particularly in male-dominated industries. Taris and Bok’s research (1998) found that when presented with gendered characteristics in job descriptions, men found all job characteristics equally attractive whereas women found male job characteristics considerably less attractive and de-selected based on these job characteristics.
Research reveals masculine wording was more likely to be used in job descriptions in male-dominated industries. Test cases showed that where masculine wording was used in job descriptions, applicants made assumptions it was a male-dominated environment. Gaucher, Friesen & Kay’s (2011) findings concluded that women with skills and qualifications suitable for jobs in male-dominated industries eliminate themselves from applying due to cues from the job description.
In my previous role as IBM’s Diversity Recruitment Leader, I created many bias interrupters including making the gender field mandatory in the job application system which demonstrated substantially less females applying for roles across the organisation. Reviewing the significant literature on gendered job descriptions, I introduced a pilot project to ensure gender neutral language. This pilot was key to increasing female experienced professional hires from 23-30%. Australian IBM General Manager Andrew Stevens stated “That is the highest rate in years. It was a small thing to do, you could almost disregard it, but it had a big effect”.
Addressing hiring and selection processes are just the tip of the iceberg in examining why women are continually underrepresented in IT industries, not to mention significant retention issues of women in tech
Part of my work now as a Director Mitchell Services- specialising in diversity & inclusion- involves reviewing gender bias in processes including hiring. Last year, Twitter, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn, shared their statistics on low representation of females at every level of their organisations, declaring much work ahead to make changes. This month, Atlassian has also declared less than 25% of their workforce females, and are examining and rewriting job advertisements to attract more female programmers and designers. Gendered language is contained not just in job titles, but throughout the job description. A quick scan of current job ads in male dominated industries to illustrate:
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Organisations cannot afford to sideline a large percentage of qualified candidates due to gender bias in job descriptions. Bias interrupters are required to disrupt the status quo of job descriptions in male-dominated industries with a focus on inclusive language. Inclusive language does not mean politically correct, cumbersome, dull or vague language; it simply means language that has been carefully constructed in ways that do not exclude people right at the start of the hiring process.