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What message are your job postings sending?

Young woman waiting for interview

Your company’s ability to attract the best talent — and create a truly inclusive workplace — starts with a few well-chosen words.

The way you write your recruitment ads and job descriptions is the first step in attracting a diverse pool of candidates and recruiting the “21st Century” leadership skills you need today.

These skills — empathy, collaboration, a willingness to seek help and the capacity to nurture others are often called “feminine leadership traits,” but you don’t have to be a woman to leverage them. In fact, they are critical for everyone who wants to manage today’s multigenerational, multicultural work teams.

Millennial, women and multicultural leaders are far less likely to respond to job posts filled with “bro-speak” written by men and (often unconsciously) for men. Even companies that value diversity and women’s leadership will scare off talented prospects if they consistently emphasize “hard-charging” candidates who will “do whatever it takes,” according to researchers.

Textio, which analyzes hiring outcomes of more than 10 million job posts each month, found that companies that write job descriptions with gender-neutral language — such as using “extraordinary” instead of “rock star” — attracted a more diverse group of candidates. They also filled jobs an average of 14 days faster.

Troublesome terms

Words used in job postings, Textio CEO Kieran Snyder says, reflect a company’s cultural norms, which can be at odds with what companies say they value. “When your PR talks about work/life balance, but your team consistently advertises jobs that are work hard/play hard, your team is the one telling the truth,” she wrote in her company blog.

Textio gained attention when it looked at 25,000 job descriptions published by power employers Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Uber, Netflix, Salesforce, Slack and Microsoft.

They found each firm relied frequently on specific phrases. For instance, in job descriptions posted by Amazon, terms that are statistically more likely to attract male applicants were used much more often than by other companies studied. “Wickedly” was used 33 times more often than the next-closest company; “fast-paced” was used 12 times more frequently. At Uber, the term “whatever it takes” was used 30 times more often than the next-closest company; “high-performance culture,” 23 times more.

On the flip side, Apple used phrases more likely to attract women, and, I believe, people with the leadership skills needed most in today’s workplace. “Comfortably” was used 15 times more frequently than the next-closest company and “empathetic” five times more often.

Other words and phrases that correlate to a higher proportion of female applicants, Textio says, include “our family,” “building alliances,” “care deeply,” “meaningfully” “passion for learning” and “diverse perspectives.” Men are more likely to respond to “disciplined,” “tackle,” “hungry for,” “weed out” and “bull by the horns.”

Advice from the experts

Recruiting site Glassdoor offers tips for creating job posts free of gender bias. Here are a few that will lead to a broader pool of candidates who have what it takes to build strong, diverse teams.

Use gender-neutral titles. Avoid including words in your titles like “superhero,” “guru,” and “ninja,” Glassdoor advises. Use more descriptive titles like “project manager.”

Check pronouns. Use he/she or “you” when describing a job’s responsibilities.

Avoid or balance gender-charged words. For example, “analyze and determine” are associated with male traits, while “collaborate” is considered female.

Limit the number of job requirements. Glassdoor recommends identifying the “nice to have” versus “must have” requirements — and removing the “nice to haves” from the job descriptions. Women are much less likely than men to apply for jobs if they don’t meet 100 percent of the requirements; you’ll get many less-than-qualified male applicants and very few female applicants who don’t have the exact experience listed.

Reconsider college major requirements. You may be limiting your candidate pool by unnecessarily requiring completion of a specific degree. 

Express your commitment to equality and share your values. Women want to know they’ll be welcome and have the opportunity to advance their careers. If your company’s vision and values promote diversity, include them in your job descriptions. Make a note of employee business resource groups, mentoring programs and other female-friendly initiatives.

List your family-friendly benefits. Parental leave, flextime and child care subsidies benefit women and men. Let candidates know what you offer.

As Snyder says, changing the words in your job descriptions won’t change your culture overnight. But being more intentional about language helps teams stay focused on diversity and inclusion, the first step to creating a more gender-balanced workplace and more successful leadership teams.

This blog first appeared in Convenience Store News.

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Sarah Alter is president and CEO of Network of Executive Women, whose 11,000 members represent 950 companies and 105 corporate partners in 21 regions in North America.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.