Struggling to find diverse candidates?

These words are limiting your hiring pool.

“We’d love to hire more women/people of color/[INSERT DIVERSITY GOAL HERE], but we just don’t get enough qualified applicants.”

It’s understandable: Young companies often a struggle to attract any talent, let alone diverse talent. Layer on historical gender/racial/age inequality in specific majors, fields, and roles, and it’s easy to blame your company’s dearth of non-white-male candidates on society.

But, if you care about building a diverse, inclusive team, there’s one thing you can change right now that’s statistically proven to increase the number of diverse applicants: Your job postings.

The science behind hiring

In 2011, social scientists at the University of Waterloo and Duke University found that job ads in male-dominated fields (like software programming) tended to use masculine-coded words such as “competitive” and “dominate” much more than job ads in female-dominated fields.

Unless you’re Janelle Monae, who is scientifically proven to dominate every field.

Five years later, a machine learning company called Textio tried a similar analysis: It considered a word “gendered” if it statistically changed the proportion of men and women who respond to a job post containing it, then assigned bias scores to job postings based on the presence or absence of gendered language in the post.

They found that these scores could accurately predict the gender of the person companies hired:

“In jobs where a man is hired, the original job post averaged almost twice as many masculine-tone phrases as feminine. In jobs where a woman is hired, Textio finds the exact opposite: twice as many feminine-tone phrases as masculine in the job post.”

Cut these 3 phrases from your job postings if you want to attract diverse candidates:

1. “Crush it”

Or it’s other aggressive varietals, “kill it,” “dominate,” “seek and destroy” (yes, we’ve seen that in an actual job posting).

Can women kill/gut/make your job beg for mercy? Of course. But, these masculine-coded words don’t really describe the job you are looking to accomplish — and to candidates, they may belie who you’re picturing accomplishing them (i.e. a man) — or who currently comprises the team (i.e. men).

Alternative: Gender-neutral descriptors like “thrive in.”

2. “Best”

Or other superlatives and hyperboles to describe your dream candidate (e.g. the “fastest coder this side of the Mississippi”).

“But wait,” you can already hear your CEO protest, “we only want the best candidates!”

Here’s the irony: While we often coach women to be more confident in their abilities, studies show that women are actually fairly accurate at estimating their own abilities, while men tend to overestimate their skills.

And, while men are likely to apply to jobs for which they meet only 60% of the qualifications, women are much more likely to hesitate unless they meet 100% of the listed requirements.

In other words, stating that you are looking for the “best” in your job description doesn’t necessarily deter underqualified candidates from applying — but it may mean that you may lose out on otherwise qualified women candidates.

Alternative: Rephrase the description in terms of specific hard and soft skills so they reflect the role requirements, rather than the candidate’s perception of themselves.

“Best button-pusher in the biz.”

3. “Wizard”

We don’t know who spiked the Kool-Aid in 2012, but reported that usage of the word “ninja” increased 400% in job postings on it’s site from January 2012 to October 2016.

Using “imaginative” job titles like “ninja,” “rockstar,” or “hacker” to make your listing stand out can backfire in a number of ways:

First, it can actually make it harder for job seekers who are not looking for a career in martial arts to find. It can also deter candidates of different genders, ages, and abilities; many of these kooky titles are traditionally perceived as young and masculine.

Again, yes, elderly women can be ninjas, too. But, as behavioral economist Iris Bohnet put it: “Our minds are stubborn beasts that are hard to change, but it’s not hard to de-bias the application process.”

Alternative: Sorceress. Kidding — use a gender-neutral, search-friendly qualifier that reflects the skill-set and seniority (e.g. Senior Front-End Developer).

Every job posting since 2012.

For all of you senseis tasked with staffing your corporate dojo, here’s your assignment: Do an audit of gender-biased language in your job postings before staffing your team of “HR assassins.”

The Point: Describe what you want done before you prescribe who you want to do it

Speechless is an organization that uses Improv Thinking to help people be themselves and be heard. Visit for more info.

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