Designed by Kat Matfield, a Service Designer and Product Manager at Adaptive Lab, the web-based app is based on an algorithm that counts gender-coded words to determine a bias.
As she explains on the app’s website: “Without realising it, we all use language that is subtly ‘gender-coded’. Society has certain expectations of what men and women are like, and how they differ, and this seeps into the language we use.”
“Think about “bossy” and “feisty”; we almost never use these words to describe men. This linguistic gender-coding shows up in job adverts as well, and research has shown that it puts women off applying for jobs that are advertised with masculine-coded language.”
Matfield cites a University of Waterloo and Duke research paper, “Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exist and Sustains Gender Inequality”, published in the Personality and Social Psychology 2011 journal.
The research showed that job adverts can put women off applying with the use of words such as ‘active’, ‘outspoken’ and ‘decisive’. The effect didn’t seem to happen the other way round; men weren’t affected by feminine words such as ‘considerate’, ‘understand’ and ‘loyal’.
It may seem like highly subjective semantics to some, but the research proves that the diversity gap is very much a real thing. According to Made by Many’s Isaac Pinnock, whom Matfield credits with giving her the ‘final nudge’ to create Gender Decoder, the tech companies’ own data reveal the truth:
“Yahoo, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn have all recently published diversity reports that reveal workforces that are overwhelmingly male, white and Asian.”
To underline the impact of this, he adds: “…this isn’t just a personal issue, but a business one. It’s been proved over and over that having a diverse and inclusive workforce is a key to business success, especially in the field of innovation.”
Made by Many themselves, a call for senior designers pulled in an 85% male response – which prompted them to consider whether language was a factor.
They changed their approach, and the numbers spoke for themselves. The ad was changed to focus less on ‘fearlessness’ to being ‘thoughtful’. Other factors notwithstanding (where it was advertised, how the criteria was listed etc.), the result was a 35% increase in women applicants.
Decode your ads
The app shows that developing inclusivity and diversity isn’t difficult – it simply starts with speaking your candidates’ language.
If you’re looking at a pile of CVs or just glancing around the office, and see that there’s a wider pool of talent you could be pulling from, then try copying and pasting your job ad into the Gender Decoded app for free.
You can also contribute to the app – its code is on GitHub, and Matfield welcomes suggestions on the wordlists it’s powered by.