Wouldn’t it be interesting if your job title was “Security Princess” or “Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence”? Or how about genius, guru, rockstar, wizard or ninja, titles that were in vogue a few short years ago? It might be a novelty to have such a title printed on your business card. 

Why did alternative titles like these become popular?

Perhaps HR leaders wanted to reflect their organization’s carefree and fun culture. Or maybe they wanted to attract millennials and Gen Z candidates and thought that fun job titles would catch their attention.

The problem?

The novelty wears off quickly. And when your rockstar leaves your company to join another band, you need to backfill the position by posting a new job description. Is it wise to list an opening with a “rockstar” titles these days?

Probably not.

How adjectives and job titles can unknowingly exclude a gender

Danielle Gaucher and Justin Friesen of The University of Waterloo and Aaron C. Kay of Duke University published a research paper titled, “Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality.”

In the paper, the researchers categorized adjectives as masculine or feminine, then scanned public job listings, looking for those adjectives. What they found is that jobs in male-dominated fields used the masculine-coded adjectives, while jobs in female-dominated fields used the feminine-coded adjectives.

For example, a job title of “ninja” and the adjective “dominant” are associated with men. As such, a job with a title of “Developer Ninja” that uses the word “dominant” in the job description may dissuade women from applying.

Buffer, a company that makes social media management software, used to call their engineers “hackers.” Applicants to their “hacker” openings were only 2% women, so they began to wonder why.

After consulting with Angie Chang, the Vice President of Hackbright Academy, they determined that “hacker” may not be hard to identify with for female candidates. They changed their job titles to “Developer” and now receive 11% of candidates who identify as female.

A Forbes article quotes Iris Bohnet, author of the book “What Works: Gender Equality by Design,” who cites a job listing at an elementary school. The school sought “a committed teacher with exceptional pedagogical and interpersonal skills to work in a supportive, collaborative work environment.”

The problem with this language, according to Bohnet, is that the adjectives “supportive,” “collaborative” and “committed” are associated with women. As a result, men might be less inclined to apply.

To be more gender-inclusive, carefully review job titles and descriptions, looking for nouns and adjectives that are masculine or feminine-coded. Replace those words with language that’s more gender-neutral.

Here are five additional tips for writing effective job descriptions.

Avoid lingo and confusing terminology

Use simple language in job titles and descriptions, especially for entry-level positions. Employees who are just entering the workforce will not be familiar with industry-specific terms or acronyms.

A study from Business in the Community and the City & Guilds Group found that confusing job descriptions are a barrier for young job seekers. In fact, 66% of young professionals surveyed didn’t understand the role they would be applying to.

According to an article about the study, “Some of the most confusing terms commonly used by recruiters in job adverts aimed at young people include ‘SLAs,’ ‘procurement,’ ‘fulfilment service,’ ‘KPIs,’ ‘compliance,’ and ‘mergers and acquisitions,’ all identified by testers as jargon.”

The same article quotes Mike Thompson, ‎Director Early Careers at Barclays Bank, who said that the bank moved to eliminate unnecessary technical language in their job descriptions, as a result of the study’s findings.

Leave out internal designations and labels

Just because your company has job tiers (e.g., Level 1, Level 2, Level 3), doesn’t mean you need to list them in your job titles. These designations are meaningful for people inside your company, but hold no meaning to potential candidates.

A recent search on LinkedIn turned up the following real-world examples:

  • Legal – Project Manager III, Office of the General Counsel – VP
  • Consumer & Community Banking – Control Management – Process Manager I – Associate
  • Data Science Engagement Manager Analytic Manager 4
  • Marketing Measurement – Multi-Channel Attribution Consultant (Analytic Consultant 5)
  • CIMD – PWM – Administrative Assistant 
  • Associate-IBD4236842
  • Area Manager, Level I – Optical Lab
  • 6094_AreaManagerFloor(FIJRRCSHMSC)

Some of these (e.g., 6094_AreaManagerFloor(FIJRRCSHMSC)) need to be re-labeled entirely, while others could use slight adjustments. “Data Science Engagement Manager Analytic Manager 4” could be changed to “Data Science Engagement Manager,” while “Consumer & Community Banking – Control Management – Process Manager I – Associate” could be changed to “Control Process Manager, Consumer & Community Banking.”

Ensure that your wording reflects your company values

Words matter. Imagine if your company believes in work-life balance, but your job descriptions reflect the opposite? 

Textio analyzed 25,000 recent job descriptions to spot decipher patterns in a company’s job listings. The analysis identified commonly used phrases in a company’s job listings. For example, commonly used phrases for Amazon were “wickedly,” “fast-paced environment” and “maniacal,” while Slack’s common phrases were “lasting relationships,” “meaningfully” and “care deeply.”

Take your company’s last 10 job descriptions and see if you can spot the commonly used phrases. Do they align with your core values and mission statement?

Use tools to audit your job descriptions

Gender Decoder for Job Ads is a free tool inspired by the aforementioned research paper by Gaucher, Friesen, and Kay. The tool’s About page provides the full list of words that the research categorized as masculine and feminine. 

Copy and paste your job description into the tool. It checks for the appearance of the masculine and feminine-coded words, then calculates the relative proportion of those words to reach a final verdict. In addition to the verdict, the tool lists the masculine and feminine-coded words that it found in your job description.

Take your company’s last 10 job descriptions and paste them into this tool. What did you find?

Go beyond the job description

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that job candidates look beyond your job description. They’ll visit your website and browse your social media channels. When they do so, they’ll ask themselves, “Can I picture myself working here?” 

In the previously referenced article from Buffer, the company states, “We recently updated the look of our jobs page to add a bit more personality, and we made a conscious decision to randomize how team members’ photos are positioned on the page (different images show up in different spots each time you reload the page).”

The company wanted to reinforce that they’re a remote and self-managed team and allow prospective candidates a way to picture themselves working at the company. Put yourselves in the shoes of a job candidate, then visit your “About” and “Careers” pages. Are they inclusive and welcoming? Would the right candidates be able to picture themselves at your company?