How to avoid gender bias in your job descriptions

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Unconscious bias in job descriptions could mean your organization is losing out on top talent and furthering the gender imbalance in certain roles and departments. Even if subconscious, these biases can still have a compound impact that leads to a “snowball effect,” says Farah Mahesri, co-founder of Quantum Impact, an advocacy and education organization promoting gender and diversity equity in the global development sector.

Much like a snowball rolling down a hill and getting bigger as it goes, small amounts of bias applied over time adds up and aggravates gender disparity at top levels. If you start with a team that is made up of slightly more women — 52 percent women versus 48 percent men — a 1 percent bias in favour of men over an eight-year period means you will end up with a team that is 65 percent male, explains Mahesri.

Workplace bias can be subtle and seemingly non harmful, such as women always getting the coffee at the start of meeting but therefore missing out on the introductions and the chance to speak first. The problem, however, can actually start with job descriptions which reinforce gender stereotypes and tip the scales in favor of male applicants. Over the past year, Quantum Impact has been taking a closer look at diversity and inclusion issues across the global and social impact sector. Based on their research and her own experience working in recruitment, Mahesri shares tips for avoiding gender bias in your job descriptions.

Use gender neutral words

Certain characteristics are subconsciously more closely associated with men or women says Mahesri — many HR and operational-type roles use language that people associate with women and so most of these roles are then filled by women. Several studies focused on nonprofits in the United States have also shown that around 75 percent of the entry-level workforce is female and that’s partly because when it comes to entry-level positions — coordinators, assistants, and associates — employers want people who are attention-detailed, team players, and loyal, and these tends to be characteristics that depict women, she explains.

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About the author

  • Emma smith

    Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a reporting and communications associate at Devex, based in Barcelona. She focuses on bringing the latest career and hiring trends, tips, and insights to our global development community. Emma has a background in journalism and, in addition to writing for news publications, has worked with organizations focusing on child rights and women’s rights in sustainable development.