- A study of gender-biased language in resumes and recommendation letters found that the way supervisors describe women and the way women describe themselves often discredit their professional capabilities, the Harvard Business Review reported. According to the study's results, the words used to describe women make them appear less capable and supervisors were likely to view them more negatively than men.
- Language stereotyping is common in resumes, references and letters of recommendation, the study found. Related research the authors conducted for another study showed that words describing women's qualifications tend to focus on their congeniality and ability to get along with others, rather than the skills needed to perform a job. Since being "nice," a word often used to describe female candidates, is a vague, non-essential job requirement, this type of stereotyping rules out women as viable contenders for jobs. Research results showed that women often describe themselves in these terms.
- To eliminate gender-biased language, the study's authors recommended that job seekers describe their qualifications based on the skills and traits they possess. Authors also encouraged supervisors writing references to review their letters of recommendation and make sure they're void of gender-biased descriptions. Recruiters, the authors said, should focus on applicants' skills, rather than the biased way applicants or others might have described them.
In short, words matter. As companies push to bring more women onto their payroll, leaders might want to examine the language they use to evaluate the women applying to open positions, following the study's prompts. If they don't, they may thoughtlessly discriminate against qualified candidates, an infraction that many businesses are trying to eliminate.
Many companies are employing a slew of benefits to fight at the base inequalities that women and people of color, especially, face at work. PwC announced this spring that it would introduce phased return to work for new parents, for example, and more employers are beginning to understand the breadth at which moves must be made to ensure equality — such as encouraging men to take parental leave, as well. A company offering benefits that cater to working women will not see success, however, if women are accidentally discriminated against during the job application process. For this reason, employers must take eliminating biased language seriously.