Tips for Writing Gender Neutral Job Descriptions

Liz Hershey
March 25, 2021

Every company wants the right person in the right seat. But how would you feel if you learned the best candidates were slipping through your fingers–before they even applied to your company’s open roles? There’s a chance it’s already happening. (Here’s your cue to take a deep breath: Inside Talent is here to help.)

Before they can feel like competitive candidates, job applicants need to be able to see themselves in a role. It may seem minor, but including gendered words in a job description can create a mental barrier to entry for many job seekers, preventing them from becoming your next best hire. Study after study shows that biased and coded language within job descriptions can discourage diverse candidates from applying.

If you’re interested in making your available positions more equitable, here are a few tips to get started.

What’s in a name? Start with neutral titles

For example, opt for postal worker over postman. Saying sales professional instead of salesman provides space for qualified candidates from all walks of life to see themselves in a role.

While it may seem like an easy way to showcase your brand’s fun factor, avoid adding words like ninja, guru, and rockstar. (We could go on, but you get the gist.) Instead, proper titles like engineer, project manager, strategist, and technician communicate respect for the talent and skills that applicants bring to the table.

Be aware of the terminology you use

Studies have found descriptions that favor masculine pronouns can prolong gender inequity. Gendered phrasing deters diverse applicants, meaning fewer women and gender nonconforming individuals apply for those roles–despite their qualifications.

Here are a few examples of gender-coded language:

Words like competitive, assertive, dominant, active, challenging, independent, decisive, lead, superior, and force tend to be associated with masculine traits.

On the other hand, words like concerned, pleasant, nurturing, affectionate, loyal, support, compassion, polite, kind, and understanding are more often seen as feminine.

If you’re ready to take the next step in removing gendered language from your job postings, this Gender Decoder is a great tool to help weed out related terms.

Review your requirements

Did you know? Research has found that many men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the listed qualifications. The standard for women? The same study shows women are less likely to apply for an open role unless they meet 100% of criteria.

Before writing your next job description, consider including only the absolute must-haves of the role. Is it really a requirement or just a preference? Do applicants really need that specific major? Keep in mind, degrees can carry bias, too. Glassdoor research has shown that choice of college major can vary by gender. By considering candidates from multiple educational backgrounds, you’re holding the door open for a more diverse array of applicants.

Check the pronouns

If you’re tempted to use phrases like “he will complete” or “she will complete”, consider swapping in “they” or “you” to create a more inclusive posting.

What can you do next?

Take a website inventory. We challenge you to dive into your company’s open career postings and “About" pages and apply these tips. Consider: How do you present your values and your people? Are photos of your staff mostly men? Mostly women? What language needs to be changed?

Once you’ve completed your website assessment, move on to your organization’s social media pages. Determine which groups are underrepresented. Make a plan of how to authentically present the most inclusive view of your company. (If you find that you don’t have many colleagues from marginalized groups, that may be a signal to dig deeper. Why?)

When it comes to advancing equality and equity in the workplace, there is plenty of work that remains. While it can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. As with any process, starting with small steps and actionable goals is often the best way to move forward.

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