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Recruitment: How to avoid the bias minefield

Kate Glazebrook

Hiring still has ‘minefield’ status for some companies, but there are some practical ways to kick-start your diversity strategy, remove bias from your job descriptions and make the perfect addition to your dream team. Contributor Kate Glazebrook, CEO and co-founder – Applied.

Use certain words in your job descriptions and you immediately imply a preferred gender for the role. So, revving up a job specification with words like ‘guru’, ‘hacker’, and ‘rock star’, could actually reduce the number of applications you receive. Such terms are geared towards male candidates and will put off female applicants. In addition, terms like ‘competitive’ and ‘dominant’ carry masculine overtones and can reduce applicant diversity even more. Instead, use terms such as ‘project manager’ or ‘consultant’ which describe the role, but avoid  gender perceptions. 

By avoiding gendered terms (towards men or women) you will create a level playing field for all candidates, so you can then pick from the best. Successive research shows that diverse businesses achieve more and are more innovative than homogeneous ones. This is another straightforward fix: replace gendered pronouns in your job descriptions with non-gendered ones. By using terms like ‘you’, ‘they’, stretching to ‘s/he’ when describing an ideal candidate and removing pronouns, you’re including all potential applicants. This approach lets you select from a wider range of candidates and increases your likelihood of hiring the best person. 

‍In the UK workplace, cultural norms promote modest personalities and the avoidance of bragging, especially for women. Studies show that women are less likely to exaggerate their achievements than men, but they are regarded more negatively when they do. Who wouldn’t want an employee that is flawless, superb, unique, and unsurpassed? But spelt out in a job advertisement, this sort of vocabulary is off-putting. By clearing out these superlatives from your job descriptions, you’ll encourage a wider group of people to apply. 

Cut requirements
Now, like any ambitious employer, you’ll have an irresistible urge to list dozens of things you want from your perfect candidate. But this tendency is only any good for restricting the number of people applying for the role. It’s well documented, for example, that women candidates will not apply for a position unless they believe they are 100 percent qualified for it. The more boxes that you ask to be ticked, the fewer the people that can tick them – and the fewer applications you will receive. That could mean a greatly depleted group of potential employees to choose from. 

Since we all want the best, be ready to cast your net far and wide. Cut down your job description to the ‘must haves’ for candidates, and, yes, remove those factors that you consider desirable. It would be amazing to have colleague that teaches blindfold unicycling or an ex-polar explorer able to recount their exploits at the water cooler, but it’s not essential for your business.  

Being less prescriptive on job applications encourages far more potential employees to submit their details ‒ and it lets you assess a much larger pool of applicants.  And research shows that simple, succinct and easy-to-read job descriptions receive far more applications.

Equality and diversity – from the off
One of the simplest ways to encourage wider backgrounds and demographics from applicants is to emphasise your company’s commitment to an equal and diverse workplace. It could be a single sentence at the end of the job description. Jeff Bezos did just that on the very first Amazon job description. An inclusive approach not only attracts a wider group of people ‒ people that might otherwise rule themselves out of the vacancy ‒ but it also promotes the benefits of your workplace. It signals to all potential candidates that you are making your work environment a happy and friendly one.

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