Gender Discrimination And Bias In Job Descriptions

By Elsie Boskamp - Apr. 16, 2021
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Believe it or not, even in 2021, many women still experience gender discrimination in the workplace. From the pay gap to fewer female executives across nearly all professional industries, and bias in and job descriptions, women face many unique challenges and hurdles in today’s workforce.

Unconscious gender bias in job descriptions, and job classifications, in particular, is a contributing and leading factor in the discrimination of female professionals across the country and around the world.

Although conscious, or explicit, bias, like racism, isn’t commonly seen in job descriptions thanks to affirmative action and laws put in place and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, subtle sexism continues to exist through gendered wording and preconceived stereotypes about men and women in the workplace.

Unconscious perceptions, biases, beliefs, and stereotypes routinely pop up in job descriptions, especially in traditionally male-dominated industries, and prove detrimental for all parties.

Whether you’re a job-seeker looking for employment at a company that encourages diversity and is committed to equality in the workplace, or an employer or job recruiter looking to hire innovative, motivated, and talented workers, avoiding gender discrimination and bias in job descriptions is essential to meeting professional goals and achieving growth.

By identifying gender bias and prejudice in job descriptions, educating employers and employees on the prevalence and increasing dangers of discriminatory recruitment processes, and taking conscious steps to eliminate sexism on the job, professional industries across the board can promote equality, embrace diversity, and experience heightened financial growth.

What Is Gender Discrimination in Job Descriptions?

Gender discrimination in job descriptions refers to gendered wording or unconscious bias in job ads, where the preferred gender of a candidate is subtly conveyed or cultural stereotypes regarding men and women in the workplace are reflected.

Sexism and stereotyping often pop up in job descriptions through masculine gendered wording, male-oriented job titles and job descriptions, and the use of gendered pronouns.

Prejudice and stereotyping based on gender in job descriptions, workplace culture, and elsewhere is generally rooted in the traditional social roles and behaviors which society has assigned to each gender as being “culturally acceptable.” These deeply-rooted stereotypes typically pin men as being strong leaders while they characterize women as gentle and empathetic.
Although women compose more than 50 percent of the country’s workforce, gender bias and discrimination continue to exist in the recruiting process.

Gender discrimination in job descriptions can be observed in all professional industries and career paths. Unconscious gender bias drives away qualified job-seekers and leads to inequality in the workplace. In this sense, biased job descriptions can be detrimental to professional success as they work to strengthen the gender gap.

How to Identify Gender Bias in Job Descriptions

Learning how to identify gender bias in professional job descriptions and recruitment ads is the first step in eliminating sexism in the hiring process, and, in turn, promote equality and diversity in America’s workforce.

One of the easiest ways of identifying gender discrimination when looking for jobs is by scanning job posts for gender-charged or coded words. Gender bias is especially prevalent in aggressive and masculine language and job ads for male-dominated industries, like farming, construction, and engineering.

Being aware of gendered words in job descriptions can help you land your dream job or, if you’re an employer, hire the best-qualified applicant.

Some of the most commonly used masculine gender-coded words are “adventurous,” “ambitious,” “courageous,” “fearless,” and “independent.” Contrarily, popular feminine gender-coded words include “compassion,” “empathy,” “nurturing,” “honest,” and “sensitivity.”

Apart from the biased language in the job description, gendered words also often appear in job titles. Screening job postings for job titles such as journeyman, businessman, congressman, craftsman, handyman, or salesman can help you identify gender bias in a job posting.

In addition to gendered language and job titles, gender discrimination in job descriptions can also be seen in the work experience and education requirements listed in a posting.

For instance, recruitment ads that include a long list of requirements or a specific college major illustrate an unconscious gender bias, since women are less likely than men to apply for positions if they don’t meet 100 percent of the job requirements and college majors can vary extensively by gender.

What Industries is Gender Discrimination Most Prevalent?

Being aware of what industries are notoriously male-dominated and unintentionally discriminatory based on gender can help you identify gender bias in job descriptions even more easily.

By understanding which professions gender discrimination is most prevalent in, employers and job-seekers recruiting or applying for jobs in these industries can take steps to reinforce gender equality, promote fair employment opportunities, and thwart unconscious bias and stereotypes in the recruiting process.

According to labor statistics, women continue to be underrepresented in engineering, farming, clergy, architecture, law enforcement, and trades, like electrical, plumbing, and construction work. In the United States specifically, there are also very few female software developers, scientists, camera operators, and pilots.

How Recruiting Plays a Major Role in Gender Equality

Bias in job descriptions, sexist sourcing of candidates, and unconscious stereotyping of applicants during the hiring process is a driving force of gender description in the workplace.

Gender discrimination in job descriptions and as early on in the recruitment process as the job application or interview is a big reg flag as it promotes prejudice and a hostile work environment, and can even lead to a higher prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Biased job descriptions can, therefore, in some instances, lead to on-the-job stereotyping, which, in turn, negatively impacts company growth and staff satisfaction.

Not only do gendered job descriptions drive away qualified candidates by lowering job appeal and deterring female applicants, but they also have a huge negative impact on a company’s culture, profitability, and overall success.

Gender discrimination in job descriptions negatively impacts a company’s diversity, causing staff innovation, retention, and engagement to plummet, thus reducing revenue streams. Since diverse teams are statistically associated with better financial performance, gender inequality in the recruiting process can be detrimental to a company’s success.

How to Make Job Descriptions Unbiased and Eliminate Workplace Gender Discrimination

Now that you can identify unconscious gender discrimination and bias in the recruitment process, including in postings and job titles, you might be thinking: What can I do about it?

If you’re a hiring manager in a company’s human resources department, there are many ways you can remove gendered stereotypes in job descriptions. From rewriting position descriptions and job titles to utilizing modern tracking systems to review qualified applicants, there are many steps a talent acquisition team can take to avoid a discriminatory onboarding process.

By following the steps below, you’ll be able to improve job listings, remove unconscious gender discrimination, and foster an inclusive, mutually beneficial, and prosperous environment for job-seekers, employees, and company executives.

  1. Avoid using gender-charged words. Removing overly masculine or overly feminine works from a job description will help make the posting more inclusive and attract a wider, more diverse pool of qualified applicants.

    Rewriting recruitment advertisements and the duties and responsibilities required for a position using balanced words, will help focus on objective job requirements — making the hiring process easier and faster for both job-seekers and hiring managers — and effectively convey a company’s commitment to diversity and equality.

  2. Use inclusive pronouns. It’s very important to consider pronouns when writing job listings. Eliminating gendered pronouns, like he, she, his, and her, will encourage job-seekers of all genders to apply for the opening. Using pronouns like s/he, you, or they will help make job descriptions unbiased.

  3. Make sure job titles are gender-neutral. Male-oriented job titles typically deter qualified female professionals from even applying for the job opening. Since job titles are the first thing applicants see when looking at a job ad, they must be gender-neutral and free of prejudice.

    Avoiding words like “rockstar,” and “guru,” and instead, using descriptives like “project manager,” or “engineer” will help neutralize job titles. Also, removing the word “man” from job titles will help ensure gender neutrality and equality. For instance, the title of, “businessman” can be changed to, “businessperson”.

  4. Closely consider the education requirements listed in the job posting. It is well known that college majors can vary extensively by gender, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

    Listing specific major requirements severely limits your applicant pool and can even be discriminatory based on gender. Removing highly specific education and major requirements will help open the door to a wider pool of more diverse candidates.

  5. Express a commitment to equality and diversity. In addition to taking steps to consciously identify and remove gender discrimination and bias in the hiring process, it’s equally as important to declare your commitment to equality and diversity in the job description.

    A simple line reading something to the effect of “This company is an equal opportunity employer. We celebrate and support diversity and are committed to equality in the workplace.” will help convey your commitment to inclusive hiring.

  6. Put in place a blind resume and application screening process to avoid unconscious bias. Studies show that hiring managers favor masculine resume styles, so using a blind screening process or tracking system to sort through qualified applicants will help to lower the possibility of unconscious human bias during the hiring process.

    This screening process will help to eliminate workplace gender discrimination by selecting candidates to advance in the onboarding process based solely on their skills and qualifications, not their gender.

  7. Make sure candidates meet with both men and women during the interview process. Just as it’s important to make job descriptions gender-neutral and inclusive, it’s also essential to take conscious steps to ensure both genders are well represented throughout the hiring process to illustrate a company’s commitment to diversity.

    Allowing qualified candidates to meet and be interviewed by an equal number of men and women during the hiring process will foster inclusivity and help eliminate workplace gender discrimination.

  8. Use specialized software to ensure job ads are gender-neutral. There are many tools created to help prevent gender discrimination and bias in job descriptions. Inputting descriptions into software like Textio, Gender Decoder, Ongig, and Applied will identify gender stereotyping and help companies use gender-inclusive, nonbiased language.

Final Thoughts

Unconscious gender discrimination and bias continue to exist in the modern workplace. Discriminatory job descriptions and titles, and gender prejudice during the onboarding process plays a major role in gender equality and essentially shapes a company’s culture and profitability.

By identifying gender discrimination in job descriptions and taking steps to ensure all genders have equal-opportunity and qualified applicants are reviewed without unconscious bias will help eliminate sexism and promote a more diverse, adaptable, and successful workforce.

Taking the steps outlined in this article to remove gender discrimination and bias from the entire recruiting process is essential to the future success of companies operating in all processional industries across the nation.

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Elsie Boskamp

Elsie is an experienced writer, reporter, and content creator. As a leader in her field, Elsie is best known for her work as a Reporter for The Southampton Press, but she can also be credited with contributions to Long Island Pulse Magazine and Hamptons Online. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Stony Brook University and currently resides in Franklin, Tennessee.

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