We tried the gender decoder, and the results surprised us.

2018-12-20 | BY Proven Recruiting's Editorial Team | IN Hiring, Work Life

We tried the gender decoder, and the results surprised us.

On the surface, the Gender Decoder seems like an invaluable tool. It helps pinpoint hard-to-identify gendered terms and excise them from your job post lexicon.

Based on research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the software highlights how gendered wording in job posts can propagate inequality by inadvertently excluding one sex or the other. But what happens when words like ‘challenge’ and ‘analyze’ are coded male – and therefore erased from professional job posts? Is that really promoting diversity?

As recruiters, we constantly make an effort to publish neutral and inclusive job posts – but at what point does avoiding gendered language infringe on our ability to express the requirements of the role? Do ‘leader,’ active,’ and ‘analysis’ have to mean male-only? We put our posts to the test – here’s what we learned:

How it works.

It’s simple; paste your job post into the Gender Decoder and watch as it parses your information into masculine- and feminine-coded words. Many jobs will have words that match both genders – in this case, the tool tallies up the male and female coded words and tells you which is more predominant.

You’ll have a chance to review the specific words identified as either male or female, and can modify the post as you wish.

What we learned and what surprised us.

We tested the tool with six posts, each aimed at Finance & Accounting or Technology professionals. Of the six, two were female-coded and four male – not a bad ratio for our first try. It’s nearly impossible to hit that perfect equality, especially when the ‘problem’ words are so inconspicuous.

Let’s take a closer look at one of our postings. In search of a Staff Accountant, we pasted the following content into the Gender Decoder:

Do you have the entrepreneurial spirit and drive to jump start your career at an exciting Real Estate startup? In this newly created Staff Accountant position, you will wear many hats and interface with senior leadership in support of the company’s accounting team. Apply today if you are ready to make a difference!

Who you are:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, Finance, or Business Administration
  • 1-2 years of post-graduate work experience with a sincere interest in Real Estate
  • Property accounting experience in a Real Estate environment or 1-2 years of Public Accounting experience

What you’ll do:

  • Assist in the monthly close by preparing journal entries and reconciliations
  • Support and collaborate on property accounting and asset management
  • Perform Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable as appropriate
  • Prepare ad-hoc reports and analyses as needed in this evolving role and growing company

Why work here:

  • People: Work with a small, dynamic team of entrepreneurs
  • Environment: Brand new office building close to beach
  • Growth: Learn a lot about the entire business by wearing many hats

Having analyzed the post, the tool came up with a short list of gendered terms – two male, two female.

Masculine-coded words in this ad

  • leadership
  • analyses

Feminine-coded words in this ad

  • support (2 times)
  • collaborate

It’s important to remember that this tool is just a starting point; it is not only the words you use that can affect the reader, but the context, sentence structure, and verb use – all of which are ignored by the Gender Decoder. Since ‘support’ is twice mentioned in the above example, the post is coded female.

There’s also the question of false categorization. Words that are, for all intents and purposes, completely innocuous, were often coded as gendered. ‘Active’ and ‘analyze,’ for instance, were labeled masculine.

But should ‘active,’ ‘leadership’ and ‘challenge’ belong to men? Should women be the sole proprietors of ‘collaboration’ and ‘support’? It seems that if you were to carefully follow the strictures of the Gender Decoder, you may be furthering rather than mitigating gender bias in the workplace. As an employer, it is crucial that you build up your workforce – men and women – to self-identify with such terms as ‘leader’ AND ‘collaborator.’

How to be more inclusive going forward.

The pros:

The Gender Decoder is a valuable, free tool – especially for new recruiters, who may still be struggling to formulate engaging, inclusive job posts.

It also functions as a great check for seasoned recruiters or hiring managers, who could benefit from an occasional second set of eyes.

The cons:

You cannot and should not rely on the Gender Decoder to ‘fix’ gender bias in your job posts. It does not reveal the whole story, and it will never be solely responsible for transforming biased posts into neutral beacons of diversity.

Input your posts, consult the results, and use your own better judgment to help improve your job descriptions going forward. More than anything, it is important to be aware of how words may be understood in various contexts, and to review the comprehensive list of gendered terms – male here, female here – in order to avoid/embrace as you see fit.

At the end of the day, the Gender Decoder is a fantastic TOOL – but it will never replace human judgment. Tallying up gendered words in a post and measuring them against one another is a great starting point, but it cannot function as your be all end all.

The best way to avoid gendered terms – apart from consulting the Gender Decoder at every turn – is to keep your job posts short and to the point. Studies show that women more often apply to jobs for which they feel entirely qualified, while men have a much lower threshold. This means that the more unnecessary qualifications you include – those ‘nice to haves’ –  the less likely you are to attract women.

Need help diversifying your workforce? We host a number of Diversity and Inclusion events every year, and would be happy to discuss your options directly. Send us an email at hello@provenrecruiting.com to start the conversation.

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