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Startup Hiring and Equality: How to Promote Diversity Through Your Job Ads

By Emily Smith on Fri, Feb 10, 2017

Tech has a diversity problem. It’s so obvious that it’s almost not worth stating – except if we don’t repeat it (and often), it could easily get forgotten about. So, tech has a diversity problem. Founders get hyper-focused on finding ‘culture fit’ when hiring new team members, except they mistakenly conflate ‘culture fit’ with ‘someone like me’, and inadvertently create a mono-culture of people just like them.

We then start seeing this mono-culture reflected in lots of ways: company perks (think ping-pong tables, beers in the office); on the company website (the about us page without a single non-white-male face); and perhaps most surprisingly – job descriptions.

"The job listing is the first, most important, and most predictive way to tell what a company is like to work for." - Jensen Harris, Textio

So, how do job descriptions help to create a mono-culture in growing startups, and how can we change them to promote diversity?

The 'Bro-grammer' Culture

Startups work hard to inject personality into their job descriptions, to make them stand out from the competition. Trouble is, many of the words and phrases that have gained popularity in startup job descriptions can be perceived as indicators of an ingrained 'bro culture' within the company, which puts-off female and minority candidates.

Ninja. Rockstar. Hack(er/ing). Crush. Kill.

These might have been innovative, exciting and refreshing the first few times we saw them in job descriptions, but now they're tired cliches that - let's be honest - are kind of cringeworthy, and sound like you let a thirteen year-old boy write a 'cool' job advert for you.

“I don’t ever recommend using the word [ninja]... It is a very strongly ‘bro-grammer’ type term.” - Laura Mather, Unitive

Key takeaway: say no to ninjas. Surely you can find a better, more original, less 'bro' way to describe your ideal candidate and your company culture.

(Un)Desirable Traits - Depending on Your Gender

Huffington Post compiled a list of words used in job descriptions that keep women from applying for jobs. Several of the traits listed seem quite innocuous:

  • Ambitious
  • Analytical
  • Assertive
  • Strong

Until you consider the different connotations each word takes-on when associated with different genders.

An ambitious man is a societal norm, whereas an ambitious woman is almost a derogatory term. Unless he's starting literal fights in the office, a man will almost never be told he's 'too aggressive'. A woman who negotiates her salary just like her male colleagues is viewed as 'aggressive' and 'not a team player'.

Key takeaway: if you're including a list of traits that go beyond skills and experience - for example, to indicate a good culture fit for your team - check your unconscious bias. Can you visualise both a male and a female candidate that fits these requirements? Would you want to hire both candidates equally?

How to Write More Inclusive Job Ads

By being more mindful of the language you use in your job descriptions, it's possible to write job ads without a strong gender bias one way or the other.

Fortunately, there are tools to help with this: Textio and Unitive both screen job descriptions for words and phrases that are loaded with gender stereotypes, and offer suggestions to how to re-word them to create a more balanced job description.

As well as this, it's important to understand how your own unconscious bias affects your hiring process and decisions, and in turn the make-up of your team.

Tech has a diversity problem right now - but it doesn't need to be that way forever.

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