How to Avoid Biased Language in Job Descriptions: Definitive Guide
It’s no secret that discrimination still plays a large role in recruitment and hiring. But what most organizations don’t know is that they may be stunting the success of diversity and inclusivity efforts from the start with biased language in their job descriptions.
Implications and Effects of Having Biased Language in Job Descriptions
Biased language in job descriptions often slips through the cracks of organizations’ anti-bias efforts because of the prevalence of gender-coded, and similarly biased language in traditional job descriptions and the business world at large.
What are the Types of Bias Common in Job Descriptions?
There are two categories of biases in job descriptions: implicit or explicit.
Each type of bias affects the recruitment and hiring process differently. Therefore, organizations need to understand the difference between implicit and explicit biases so they can ensure future job descriptions are equitable and bias-free.
Implicit biases are subconscious prejudices or attitudes against certain genders, races, religions, cultures, etc. These prejudices occur below the level of conscious mental processing, meaning individuals aren’t aware of their bias or the way it influences their actions.
Implicit biases can heavily influence the creation of job descriptions, so it’s crucial to engage in ongoing anti-bias training. Additionally, a diverse hiring committee can review job descriptions to minimize implicit bias and its impact on DEI.
Explicit bias refers to beliefs and attitudes on a conscious level. Implicit bias like gendered language is more prevalent in job descriptions, but hiring managers should be diligent not to let explicit biases like cultural barriers impede recruitment efforts.
Since explicit biases are prejudices and attitudes held on a conscious level, they are easier to spot. Company leadership should firmly address expressions of explicit bias to protect the dignity of your diverse workforce and your organization’s reputation.
Explicit biases are less common in job descriptions than implicit biases. Still, they can leak into face-to-face interviews and resume reviews if companies aren’t leveraging the current best practices for unbiased hiring.
Examples of Biased Job Description Language
Unfortunately, job descriptions that contain biased language are fairly common.
Fortunately, that means there are plenty of biased descriptions out there depicting perfect examples of what to avoid when creating equitable and inclusive job descriptions.
We’ll scrutinize a few examples of biased language in job descriptions and where the descriptions go wrong to generate three suggestions to improve the neutrality of the description.
Gender Bias Examples
Gender discrimination in job descriptions proves to be relatively commonplace, leading to sustained or exacerbated gender inequality. Let’s check out a few examples of how gendered language in job descriptions might look.
Biased Language Examples
- ‘Aggressive,’ ‘competitive,’ ‘assertive,’ and similar desired qualities that are traditionally masculine
- Titles like ‘anchorman,’ ‘chairman,’ or ‘businessman’
- Referring to ‘man-hours’ to describe a workload
What to Say Instead
- Swap heavily gendered words for neutral terms like ‘motivated,’ ‘committed,’ or ‘proactive’
- Adjust to gender-neutral titles such as ‘anchor,’ ‘chairperson,’ or ‘businessperson’ without losing clarity or limiting your applicant pool
- Try using inclusive terms like ‘folks’ and ‘work hours’ instead
Age Bias Examples
Ageism is a growing, global challenge that every business should be careful not to perpetuate. Here are a few common words and phrases that could lead to an ageism discrimination suit.
Biased Language Identified
- ‘Recent grad’ or ‘digital native’ can be considered discriminatory towards older workers.
- Experience bands that include maximum limits, like ‘2-5 years, no more than five years experience’ can also make your job description read as ageist. In fact, a job description using an almost identical phrase landed the medical company CareFusion in a discrimination suit that went to the Supreme Court.
- Descriptors like ‘seasoned’ and ‘veteran’ can discourage younger workers from applying for positions due to ageist implications.
- Instead of ‘recent grad,’ try ‘entry-level.’ Not everyone starts their career at the same age. So disassociating youth from entry-level can make your workspace more inclusive while upgrading your job descriptions. And instead of ‘digital native’ try ‘computer and programming experience.’
- Move away from the outdated mindset that experience equals skill or competency. Instead, consider implementing skill-based tests and evaluations in place of work experience. You might be surprised by the applicants that turn out to be top performers!
Racial Bias Examples
Racial biases often slip into job descriptions in more subtle fashions. Common phrases, technical terms, and even mainstream recruitment terminology are often steeped in racially biased language, presenting a barrier to people of color.
Despite the popularity of diversity, equity, and inclusivity, recent research indicates zero change in racial discrimination in hiring over the last 25 years.
Biased Language Identified
- Insensitive terms with racist origins, such as ‘cakewalk,’ ‘blacklist,’ or ‘grandfathered in’
- Cultural references like ‘Driving Ms. Daisy’ or ‘ninja’ to describe work ethic
- Try using neutral terms like ‘quick and easy,’ ‘denylist,’ and ‘legacy clause’
- Avoid unnecessary references to aspects of minority races and cultures or tone-deaf allusions to historical oppression
How to Evaluate if Your Job Description is Not Inclusive
Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself before posting your next job description. These criteria can help ensure it’s inclusive, equitable, and likely to attract a variety of high-performing applicants from diverse backgrounds.
- Does this description have traditionally gendered characteristics or personality traits?
- Does this description imply one age group would be better suited for the role than another?
- Does this description contain references to race or racial remarks?
- Does this description exclude or discourage certain genders or sexual orientations?
- Most importantly, has this description undergone review by a diverse hiring panel or committee?
Eliminate Hiring Bias With PerceptionPredict
Hiring bias is a problem that can be difficult to solve with traditional anti-bias techniques or strategies. That’s why we created a unique predictive analytics tool that empowers businesses to make optimal hiring decisions without the influence of implicit or explicit biases.
Our Performance Fingerprints are multi-dimensional candidate evaluations that forecast crucial metrics like performance, productivity, and length of tenure. While focusing on truly relevant traits in your workplace, our models help eliminate human biases towards minority applicants and candidates with non-traditional educational or professional backgrounds.
Our cutting-edge hiring tools have worked for multinational industry leaders like Mercedes Benz and CrowdStrike to revolutionize their hiring process, enhance diversity, and improve performance.
To learn more about how PerceptionPredict can eliminate biases from your recruitment and hiring process, book a demo with one of our experts.