Is using 'hard-working' in a job ad sexist?

Is using 'hard-working' in a job ad sexist?

According to a report by the Confederation of British Industry, over half of business leaders say that the lack of diversity in their sector is preventing them from achieving their business’ diversity targets.

And while recruiters are trying to improve diversity with initiatives such as name-blind applications, there is still a lack of diverse hiring. For example, research from the University of Colorado earlier this year found that if there’s only one female candidate in a hiring pool of four, the chances of her getting the job is statistically zero.  

Unconscious bias is also pervasive in the final process of placing a candidate: references.

Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics and Master of Churchill College, recently made this point in her blog; and while she may only be talking specifically about references, her points about removing unconscious bias remain, even though they are one of the few aspects in which recruiters have little control.     

She wrote: “[A few years ago] being conscientious, kind, helpful, a good team player or hard-working might all have been regarded as praise. But it was praise of a kind that does not necessarily imply high performance.

“The words that are required to land such a position are more likely to involve qualities such as drive, potential, creativity, imagination, excellence and to be regarded as outstanding, stellar or ‘top of the class’.

“As with so many of the different strands that make up unconscious bias, making the bias conscious […] may make all the difference.

“It is important to know when someone is described as hard-working because that’s the kindest thing anyone can say, and when the writer actually meant to convey an extremely positive impression but is unaware that their description is gendered and liable to be read in a very different way. The more this issue is discussed explicitly, the less women will be unintentionally disadvantaged.”

The importance of gender-weighted language has been highlighted before by digital consultancy Red Badger. Writing in Gadgette, they said: “It might sound simple, but the first thing that has to be done in any successful, gender-neutral advert is to remove gendered articles. It’s tacit as well as overt.

"The way that you direct your language in a job advert is critical in keeping it gender-neutral. For example, by describing your company as ideal for ‘independent thinkers’ as opposed to ‘ruthless people’, you eliminate the potential risk of your company appearing more suited to or populated by men."   

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