The severity of the gender gap in STEM fields has been well-established, so much so that a number of organizations have emerged to address the problem.

Girls Who Code and the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) are two examples, and while they've made great strides in recent years, they can't do it alone. Fortunately, a new study recently revealed that we might all have more power than we thought to improve gender diversity in the workplace.

Words matter: Don't use these

In the latter half of 2019, LinkedIn published the groundbreaking Language Matters report. Subtitled "How words impact men and women in the workplace," the study looked at the percentages of men and women who responded to different job postings based on the language used.

For example, including the word "aggressive" in a job posting would discourage 33% of men from applying, but it would discourage 44% of women. Put differently, the disparity created by this one word can unintentionally affect the makeup of an entire company -- or even entire industries.

Additionally, 1 in 4 women would be discouraged from working somewhere that is described as "demanding."

Data from ZipRecruiter suggests that business, finance, healthcare, and insurance all demonstrate a strong preference for masculine words, and that preference might be costing these industries a fortune.

How homogeneity hampers business

It should be obvious that addressing the gender gap is the right thing to do, so I won't harp on it. What might be less obvious is the incredible impact that diversity can have on a team's performance.

A slew of sources demonstrate how diverse companies perform better than homogenous ones. Harvard Business Review suggests that diverse companies are 70% more likely to expand into new markets, while McKinsey's Diversity Matters report illustrates ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their least diverse competitors.

What's more, diverse teams are easier to fill. Not only are they 67% more attractive to job seekers, but eliminating gender biased language from job postings allows recruiters to tap into a much larger pool of potential applicants. According to  ZipRecruiter, gender-neutral wording garners 42% more responses than a post with biased verbiage.

That means more qualified applicants to choose from, which leads to a quicker time to hire, which reduces disruption (the bad kind) at your company.

Lost for words? Try these

If you're not sure how to put all this new information into practice, rest assured that it's not rocket science. Simply comb through your job postings with a fresh eye for biased descriptors, and when you find them (and you will) -- replace them.

Instead of relying on male-biased words like "strong" and "competitive," ZipRecruiter suggests using more neutral adjectives. The same terms can easily be replaced, and a post that says "we're looking for exceptional go-getters" will attract a more balanced pool of applicants than one seeking "strong, competitive candidates."

The Language Matter report also states that women are more likely to prioritize terms that relate to their character, such as "likable" and "supportive."

The gender gap is a large and complex problem, and it's not going to go away overnight. The good news is that we can all take a small step toward a more equitable future -- one that benefits our own businesses and society as a whole.

Published on: Oct 18, 2019
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