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The Business Case for Removing Gender Bias From Job Ads

Case for Removing Gender Bias From Job Ads
Profile photo of Lori Sylvia
Written by Lori Sylvia

New research has found that using gender-coded words in job advertising negatively impacts the diversity of qualified candidates that apply for your jobs and ultimately drives up your recruiting costs. Learn what you can do to support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in your talent attraction strategy.

The Business Case for Removing Gender Bias From Job Ads
4.4 (88.57%) 7 votes

As employers seek to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts within their organizations, one of the most critical areas of focus is on talent attraction and retention. Since your job ads play a critical role in attracting talent, they’re an important touchpoint to pay attention to when it comes to DEI efforts.

One way to help ensure your job ads engage a more diverse candidate pool is to be mindful of the language that’s used in job descriptions. In fact, new research from Appcast has found that using gender-coded words in job advertising not only negatively impacts the diversity of qualified candidates that apply, it can also cost more. That means that reducing gender bias isn’t just the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. It’s also a critical talent acquisition strategy especially now, as many women left the workforce due to the pandemic, in what’s being called the “shecession”. Removing gender-coded words can help employers attract more women to open jobs and help more women get back to work.

In a recent webinar, I connected with Heather Salerno, SVP of Marketing at Appcast, to discuss the findings of their research and to learn specific strategies you can use to improve your recruitment outcomes and support your DEI goals. I’ve recapped some of the takeaways here, but if you’re interested in hearing the full conversation, you can watch the webinar on demand and gain access to the webinar slides.

Remove gender bias in job ads: Webinar on demand

Removing Gender Bias in Job Ads: Meet the Expert

Heather SalernoHeather Salerno is the SVP of Marketing at Appcast. Heather leads all marketing activities, strategies and outcomes. Heather and her team work to implement a comprehensive, creative and ROI-driven brand strategy to raise awareness about Appcast within the recruitment leadership teams of America’s leading companies.

What are gendered-coded words?

Gender-coded words have certain associations with male or female characteristics at an unconscious level due to stereotypes and socialization. They are not explicit or obvious, but they do make the job seeker subconsciously ask themselves, “Am I who they’re looking for?” or “Would I fit in?” and “Do I even want this job?”

Note: Appcast would like to acknowledge that while this study looks at 2 genders, they recognize there is a full spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.

What is gendered wording

Unconsciously, words have certain associations as male or female.

How does gendered language impact the success of your job ads?

Based on the findings of a 2011 study conducted by Duke University and the University of Waterloo, Appcast decided to investigate the impact of gendered wording on candidate acquisition behavior and costs. The team analyzed more than 473,000 job ads from August 2020 to understand the impact on candidate behavior as well as recruiting costs.

The study looked at 2 key recruitment metrics:

  1. Apply rate (AR): the conversion rate from a click on a job posting to the completion of an application
  2. Cost per application (CPA): The cost to acquire an application from an interested job seeker

The business case for gender-neutral job ads

So, what did Appcast find? The overall research showed that job ads without gendered-coded words resulted in higher apply rates, more applications and a lower cost per applicant.

Job ad example

People are less likely to apply for a job that uses words associated with their opposite gender.

The study also took into consideration predominately male and female job functions (e.g. construction workers or nurses). Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there are still predominantly male and female job functions. So, the researchers wanted to understand if there were differences in the impact of using gendered words within historically gendered job functions. Here’s what they found:

  • In predominantly male job functions, job ads with gender neutral language get 145% more applications per job at a 16% lower CPA than both job ads with female and male coded words.
  • In predominantly female job functions, job ads with gender-neutral language had the lowest CPA. However, ads with female-coded words had a higher AR (62 more applications per job); but a 14% higher CPA than gender neutral job ads. That means that you may be able to attract more applicants for these types of jobs using female-coded language, but it will cost more.

Note: In this study, gender neutral meant the absence of gender-coded words.

There were some interesting outliers worth noting. For example, within the predominantly male IT/tech sector, job ads that included female-coded words had the highest application rate and a 20% lower CPA. And on the flip side, in the predominantly female HR field, job ads with male-coded words got 143% more candidates, but they had a 37% higher CPA.

So what does all of this mean?

Sometimes the trends can be hard to interpret, so it’s important to think about your goals and align your job ad strategy accordingly. For example, if you’re looking to increase the number of female software developers at your organization, then you may consider using more female-coded language in your job ads. However, overall, creating gender neutral jobs ads is a more inclusive and better long-term strategy!

Business case for gender neutral job ads

Studies show that gender-neutral job ads have better apply rates with a better Cost per Application.

How to improve your job ads to support your DEI goals

Now that you’re equipped with these insights, it’s time to put them into action. Heather recommends 3 steps to help you take the right approach for your organization and start attracting a more diverse talent pool.

  1. Align your approach with your strategic priorities. Are you trying to optimize for cost, applicant volume or diversity?
  2. Test, analyze, revise, repeat. Heather suggests that in place of synchronous A/B testing you might:
    • Run language combination A for 2 weeks
    • Run language combination B for 2 weeks
    • Review the data to find out which job ads received more applications, which received a better CPA and which produced more gender diversity
  3. Don’t go it alone. Find a partner who lives and breathes Recruitment Marketing who can provide you with granular-level views of job ad data that can guide your strategy.


As you probably already know, the words you use make a big impact on your talent attraction efforts. And if you want to make your company more diverse and inclusive, it’s important to start with identifying and removing the bias in your job descriptions. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense!

I want to give a huge thank you to Heather and the Appcast team for sharing their research and insights with the Rally community! Don’t forget, you can catch the full webinar here to learn more.

The Business Case for Removing Gender Bias From Job Ads
4.4 (88.57%) 7 votes

About the Author

Profile photo of Lori Sylvia

Lori Sylvia

Recruitment Marketing evangelist and community builder. Founder of Rally.

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