A job description is much more than a set of requirements and responsibilities. It also has the power to determine who will apply to the role — not just based on their experience, but also their identity.
Whether it’s a subtle adjective or the absence of important benefits information, here are three major signs that a company might not be as inclusive as you think, based on the language in their job description.
Terms like “rockstar” and “ninja” are already thought of as red flags, regardless of what gender you are. But these terms are also masculine-coded, meaning we stereotypically associate them with men. There are tons of less-noticeable, masculine-coded terms companies use every day that subconsciously may deter non-male applicants from applying.
In a study of 7,500 job descriptions, those with strong masculine language — determined by a gender score calculator — saw that 10% fewer female candidates applied for those roles.
When those masculine-coded words were replaced with feminine-coded or neutral words, female applicants went up 54%.
Companies that are truly aiming to be inclusive will review their job descriptions for this type of language, and work to eliminate biases upfront with neutral language to ensure a diverse candidate pool.
A job description should include benefits — it’s not just about employees trying to persuade employers to hire them, but employers trying to entice candidates to apply. Yet when a company includes vague benefits or benefits that are only “fluffy,” not practical, can be a red flag.
Some jobs may require you to work outside of the traditional 9-5 p.m. schedule, but if they’re going to require that, they need to say it upfront and be clear about it. Job descriptions that include “schedule TBD” or “flexible hours” — with no evidence that these “flexible hours” don’t mean you’ll be working 24/7 — can deter people like parents and caregivers from applying.
“Fluffy” benefits like “ping pong tables at the office” or a “free gym membership” can be great, and even encourage all kinds of candidates to apply. Yet if the company only lists these kinds of benefits, they’re leaving out important details about vacation, parental leave, healthcare, family leave and work-life balance — benefits that often matter to non-male, disabled and chronically ill candidates.
In Sheri Byrne-Haber’s HR Dive article, “Meet DEI goals with inclusive language, not subjective qualifiers” they write that terms like “excellent verbal and communication skills” are common phrases that aren’t as neutral as we think they are.
“People with dyslexia, autism, stuttering and hearing loss may choose not to apply for a job that contains this phrase because they may not consider their communication skills to be excellent,” Bryne-Haber writes. “In the field of technology, that can be up to 1 in 8 candidates according to a recent Stack Overflow survey.”
Instead, Bryne-Haber suggests that companies use objective language like “effective verbal and communication skills.” The focus should be on the result and effect of their work, rather than a subjective assessment of their skills.
A job description can give you an inside look at what the company really cares about — and what biases they’re overlooking.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Zoe Kaplan is a Staff Writer & Content Strategist at Fairygodboss.