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The Hidden Ways Gender Bias Can Sabotage Recruitment

Robyn Melhuish

The job search is a game, and everyone approaches it with a different strategy. Gender can impact the way job seekers attack the job search in subtle ways we don’t always recognize. recently compiled an infographic highlighting the diverse tactics men and women use during the job search, and the research speaks for itself. Although you may think your recruiting process is fair, factors you don’t even realize could be eliminating top female candidates.

Below are a few implicit ways gender bias can sneak into your hiring process.

Related Article: Defining Success: What Do Age & Gender Have to Do With It?

Using masculine job descriptions

The job post is critical to attract the right candidates for an open position. You labor over the description to create one that reflects the job and the organization. But your carefully crafted job description could be turning off qualified women.

Researchers from the Technische Universität München gave 260 men and women fictional employment ads in 2014. Ads that list many traits typically associated with men were less appealing to women, and women were less willing to apply to these positions. Masculine traits included terms like assertive, independent, aggressive, and analytical.

Women were more attracted to jobs that used terms like dedicated, responsible, and sociable. For men, however, the wording made no difference in their desire to apply to the job.

Job descriptions that read like a laundry list of qualifications could also keep women from applying for the position. Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them.

When drafting job posts, try to find a balance of feminine and masculine traits, if possible. Attract job seekers of both genders by focusing only on the necessary skills and experience and relevant responsibilities.

Taking application materials at face value

Words are not only powerful when you explain a position, but they also influence the way you perceive the qualifications of job seekers.

As candidates submit their resumes and other application materials, evaluating their skills and experience is more complex than reading a piece of paper. Men and women represent their skills differently; if you’re not reading between the lines, you could eliminate women in favor of equally qualified men. 

While men tend to overstate their abilities and exaggerate their skills, women are more likely to understate their skills and achievements. A study published in March 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), found that when asked to predict their performance on a math evaluation, men overestimated their scores, while women were more likely to underestimate theirs.

Based off application materials, a male candidate may seem more qualified than a female candidate, when in reality, the woman is equally or more qualified for the job. Don’t just rely on what job seekers tell you. Follow up with references and consider using objective skills-based evaluations and assessments to better identify skilled candidates.

Related Article: Boys Vs. Girls: The Difference Between Affirmative Action and Discrimination

Making appearance-based decisions

An interview provides a better representation of a candidate than a resume. It allows you to get to know them to aid in your decision about who is the best for the position. But before the interview starts, you may have already made up your mind.

In the PNAS study, when employers only had the appearance of a job candidate to make hiring decisions, both male and female recruiters were twice as likely to hire a man over a woman. What’s more, when recruiters didn’t have any information about candidates’ work experience or skills, they expected male applicants to perform better than female applicants. 

Tuning out feminine words

In addition to unintentional bias which can form your expectations, how women talk about themselves in the actual interview can also sway your decisions. A study published in July 2014 in the Psychology of Women Quarterly found that women who described themselves with “feminine” terms were seen as less qualified for jobs traditionally held by men than those who described themselves with masculine words.

Create a standard template of hard and soft skills needed for the job to eliminate bias in the interview. Throughout the conversation, check off the boxes of said skills for a more objective selection process.

Brushing off salary negotiations

If you think you base your salaries on experience and skills fairly, think again. We’ve already covered how men can exaggerate their skills, potentially leading to a higher starting salary, but there are other factors at play when it comes to the wage gap.

There’s a long-held belief that women make less money when starting a new job because they don’t ask for more. But recent research shows that’s not true.

In 2010, 52% of men and 47% of women reported asking for a higher salary during the hiring process, according to a report published by Catalyst. Yet, women still earn only 78% of what men earned in gross income.

Women are negotiating, they’re just not as successful as men when they ask for more money.

Use a similar rubric as you would in the interview to evaluate skills to determine fair starting salary for all new employees. Carefully consider salary negotiations, and refer to your chart when in doubt.

Although gender differences and biases are complex, recognizing and acknowledging them is the first step to creating better workplaces for everyone. 

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Robyn Melhuish Member
Robyn Melhuish is the Communications Manager at, a job board which gives members access to the most sought after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the Web. Connect with Robyn and on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.