Gender Decoder and blind resumes: How to remove bias in your hiring process

HR leaders use language analysis to rewrite job descriptions and an interview scorecard to level the playing field for all candidates.

Diversity and tolerance

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Companies are using text analysis and a revamped interview process to attract a broad set of job candidates and diversify the tech workforce. Human resources leaders use Textio, Gender Decoder, and Ongig to spot gender and racial bias in job descriptions. Independent analysis helps spot unconscious bias that can influence a company’s image as well as who applies for open positions and who doesn’t.

Candace Bridges, senior manager of diversity and inclusion and employer brand at Schneider Electric, said that job descriptions are often a candidate’s first interaction with a company, and using inclusive language will increase the diversity of applicants. 

“Avoid gender-coded words such as ‘aggressive,’ ‘ninja,’ or ‘dominate,'” she said. 

Kristen Hayward, the head of people at Superhuman, an email platform company, said that her company uses Gender Decoder to check for gender bias in job postings. Research has shown that language can discourage candidates from applying for jobs. 

SEE: Virtual hiring tips for job seekers and recruiters (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“For example, if the job description makes more use of more masculine-coded words than feminine-coded words, the job may receive fewer applications from women,” she said.

This tool uses the original list of gender-coded words from the research paper by Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Kay, “Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality,” which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in July 2011.

Emily Couey, the senior vice president of people at Illumio, said that the big picture goal is to make sure the language in job descriptions is inclusive so that people of different ages, abilities, races, ethnicities, and gender identities will be able to see themselves doing the jobs. 

She pays close attention to language when crafting a job description to make sure the role will appeal to a broad group of candidates.

“Sometimes it’s hard to recognize bias in our own writing, so you can use tools like Textio and Ongig to help you identify exclusive language,” she said. “Tools like these are also useful in learning how to be more inclusive with our language throughout the entire hiring process and even in the office.” 

She also recommends checking job descriptions for jargon, corporate-speak, acronyms, pop-culture references, or gender-coded words and replacing them with more inclusive language. 

Couey’s other piece of advice is to stick to the facts when writing a job description. 

“Instead of including your laundry list of ‘nice-to-have’ qualifications, only put down the ‘must-haves,'” she said. “This will help you make sure your ideal candidate doesn’t self-select out of your hiring process.”  
Hayward recommended this approach as well.

“Finding this appropriate balance between using gender-neutral language and clarity within the role itself helps ensure the candidate experience is positive,” Hayward said.

Bridges also recommends evaluating job descriptions for socioeconomic bias. 

“Requirements related to educational background, for example, could be biased against individuals who have relevant professional experience but could not afford a college education,” she said. “Ask the hard question of what is really required for the job versus nice to have.” 

Consider these guidelines when reviewing a job description for potential bias:

  • Use “you” or “they/them” instead of “him/her” when talking about the ideal candidate to reduce gender identity bias 
  • Take out cultural references that candidates might not understand
  • Highlight benefits that would be interesting to people from all backgrounds and at every stage of life 
  • Ask for feedback on the job description from people of different backgrounds, ages, and genders

Bridges also recommended that companies use job descriptions to share the company’s commitment to inclusive benefits like parental leave and employee resource groups so that candidates know they are welcome even before they apply.

Reorganizing the interview process 

Another way to make the hiring process more equitable is to create a more structured interview format that evaluates candidates on the same questions. Instead of a free-flowing conversation that is different with each person, use one set of questions for everyone and a scorecard to rate each person’s answers. The hiring manager should grade candidates on each question and then compare the scores.

Adding a skills test is another way to even out the playing field. Ask candidates to solve problems directly related to the open position. Focusing on the quality of a person’s work can lower the chances of unconsciously judging the individual on age, gender, or appearance. 

Finally, look into software that creates a blind resume review process. By removing the names of candidates, the hiring team will be able to look at qualifications only and not be influenced by gender or other factors. 

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