The words and phrases you should stop using in job descriptions if you want to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds

The words and phrases you should stop using in job descriptions if you want to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds
To attract more employees from underrepresented backgrounds, HR experts suggest removing gender-coded words from job listings.Westend61/Getty Images
  • Certain words in job postings attract more male job applicants, while others attract more female applicants.
  • By removing these gender-coded words, companies see nearly 30% more applicants, a recent study reveals.
  • Yet only 38% of companies remove these words, which is troubling as companies seek to bring in a diverse talent pool.

For managers who want to get serious about diversity, rooting out unconscious bias in every step of the hiring process is crucial. That includes being aware of each word you use in a job post.

Without knowing it, hiring managers may be excluding applicants by using gender-coded words, or words that most perceive to be associated with either a male or female gender identity.

A University of Waterloo and Duke University study found that male-coded words like "ambitious, confident, decision, logic(al) and superior," tend to attract for male applicants while female-coded words like "compassion, emotion(al), interpersonal, sensitive, and warm" tend to attract more female applicants.

By removing those types of words from job listings, companies see nearly 30% more applications per job compared to ads with both male- and-female coded words. That's according to a recent study by Appcast, a recruitment advertising company, of some 470,000 job advertisements from August 2020.

But while gender-neutral ads perform the best, the report found that only 38% of job ads use gender-neutral language, the same Appcast study found, and HR Dive first reported.


Using gender-neutral words in job listings not only helps attract male and female applicants to roles they might not otherwise apply for, it also helps attract non-binary or gender-fluid applicants,

If you're interested in checking your job listing for gender-coded words, here's a handy online tool to explore.

Another way to be more inclusive in job listings is to avoid language that might make people who aren't in their 20s or 30s uncomfortable. Phrases like "young and energetic" and "party atmosphere" can be problematic.

In addition, avoid able-bodied language like "must be able to stand for entire shift" or "must walk around building to deliver files," which would make someone who uses a wheelchair feel excluded.

For people from underrepresented backgrounds, this awareness will go on a long way.