The Best Companies Are Just Starting To Tackle Gender Bias in Recruiting

To be honest, I don’t talk about being a woman in business very much. I’m in a field that is filled with vibrant, brilliant, highly successful women who tend to go at a very fast clip, with little time or inclination for reflection.

HR is filled with smart, powerful, resourceful women. But is it equitable, at the end of the day? The truth is we have a long way to go to truly make the world of work better for women.

The good news is that dynamic and effective organizations understand that equity benefits everyone, which is why more HR departments are taking steps to reduce bias in the ways they attract talent. Let’s take a look at how recruiting is adapting.

Start With Job Postings

Tons of work goes into writing job descriptions, and yet we turn off great talent by not considering how they might interpret specific language.

Gender-coded language is alive and well in job descriptions in all fields. We may be just trying to write standout, engaging descriptions, but in the process we inadvertently discourage women applicants. We still look for ninjas and rockstars (terms associated with males far more than females), and seek aggressive, dominant players (same).

But tech, while often a notorious offender, has also produced some highly effective digital tools to help. Augmented writing platforms (like Textio) and gender decoding software (like the free Gender Decoder) can seek and scrub bias, as well as help bolster descriptions with truly engaging but equitable language. This is a strong case for letting the machines do the work. As humans, we can’t seem to get out of our own way.

Gender Decoder, for instance, is surprisingly effective in such simple ways that it’s astounding we don’t all use it as a required step in creating recruiting materials, job descriptions — really any content for candidates, applicants or new hires.

The software is not just simply anti-bias. It’s more of a bias detector that suggests better wording and terminology to decrease the perceptions of a reader that there is bias. In a sense we learn each time we use it. It turns us into cognitive thinkers. These tools are improving and only going to proliferate as awareness and demand increases.

Small Efforts Usually Don’t Work

There’s a new program, which shall go unnamed here, that advertises itself as an alternative to Textio, which should tell you how vital Textio has become. Curiously, this new program doesn’t mention bias at all — just that it can help companies attract more “qualified and female” applicants by replacing gendered language.

The thing is if we don’t say bias, we don’t focus on bias. Qualified and female? Am I the only one who thinks that’s a pretty awkward way to put it? You can’t fix bias if you don’t call it that.

When it comes to bias, we know that small efforts don’t solve the problem. Anti-bias training, gender sensitivity training, inclusion workshops — all those can be good but they’re proving to often be ineffective.

When we’re rushing to craft a snappy job description, we may not be sitting back and taking a minute (or five) to consider whether its biased language or not. Pressure and lack of time tends to make us use fallback approaches, and bias, unfortunately, is for many a fallback approach. We need to instead build anti-bias thinking into our everyday.

Going Beyond Recruiting

This bias-scrubbing effort needs to go beyond job postings. In fact, all recruiting touchpoints need to be closely examined for bias. It really has to change. But I think it’s also going to be more and more important to integrate that anti-bias technology into all work processes.

For example, there are already a few forward-thinking HR tools that are looking at how to make sure recognition and rewards are not biased — not just in terms of the analytics on frequency and who is getting what, but also the very way we’re offering them.

Additionally, the entire benefits process could use an anti-bias scrub. As millennials and Gen Z look for employers who offer family and paternity leave as well as same-sex benefits and family support, companies that sill think “Baby = Mom” are going to be left in the dust. We should really be conducting bias audits on every aspect of the company.

We need more tangible solutions in our arsenal so we can approach the same old problems — and some new problems — in more effective ways.