Thy Employee is Not You: New Study Exposes Gender Bias in Tech Job Listings

March 22, 2013 at 1:47 am 3 comments

I found the study linked below fascinating, in part because I saw myself making exactly these mistakes.  I have absolutely described jobs in those masculine terms instead of the more neutral terms.  I didn’t realize that those were terms that would dissuade females from applying.

When we teach classes on designing user interfaces, a key idea that we want students to learn is that “Thy User is Not You.”  Don’t design for yourself.  Don’t judge the interface only from your own eyes. You can’t imagine how the user is really going to use your interface.  Try it with real users. Get input from real users.  You can’t design interfaces for yourself and expect them to be usable for others. (Just like you can’t develop educational software for the developed world and expect it to work in the developing world.)

I heard the same lesson in this study.  If you want to hire employees different than you, find out what you need to put in your job ad to attract them.  You do not know how they will read your ad.  Get input from others (who see things differently than you), and use expert guidance.  Thy employee is not you.

The paper — which details a series of five studies conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Duke University — found that job listings for positions in engineering and other male-dominated professions used more masculine words, such as “leader,” “competitive” and “dominant.” Listings for jobs in female-dominated professions — such as office administration and human resources — did not include such words.

A listing that seeks someone who can “analyze markets to determine appropriate selling prices,” the paper says, may attract more men than a list that seeks someone who can “understand markets to establish appropriate selling prices.” The difference may seem small, but according to the paper, it could be enough to tilt the balance. The paper found that the mere presence of “masculine words” in job listings made women less interested in applying — even if they thought they were qualified for the position.

via New Study Exposes Gender Bias in Tech Job Listings | Wired Enterprise | Wired.com.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Clay Fenlason (@khomotso)  |  March 22, 2013 at 7:31 am

    In another context, I would have immediately flagged ‘understand … to establish appropriate …’ as just mushy, passive-voice writing. The kind of thing every applicant (as well as job poster) is counseled to avoid. Are we saying that the virtues of passive language need re-examining?

    I feel there’s something else going on here, and it gets tangled up with the gender issue: the valorization of Type-A personalities. A culture which celebrates extroversion and dynamism, and tends to view other personality traits as plodding and uninspired (witness trite contrasts of managers vs. leaders, and all that implies).

    I’m left wondering: is this rooted in gender issues, or are the gender issues symptomatic of it?

    Reply
  • […] heard stories like this before, about the implicit bias in how STEM professionals are judged.  This one is striking because the participants are graduate students, not established researchers […]

    Reply
  • […] heard stories like this before, about the implicit bias in how STEM professionals are judged.  This one is striking because the participants are graduate students, not established researchers […]

    Reply

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