When it comes to job listings, language matters. The words and phrases used in a job description have an effect on who decides to apply, and that includes applicants’ gender. Studies have shown that some job listings use gender-biased language, deterring women from applying to positions using male-coded words in listings. 

This week, Pinterest has been under scrutiny for gender discrimination within its own ranks, agreeing to settle a lawsuit filed by its chief operations officer. The company paid $22.5 million to Pinterest COO Françoise Brougher, who was fired in April. Brougher says she faced lower pay than her male counterparts and was unnecessarily left out of meetings. Brougher isn’t the only worker to complain about the company: in June, two former employees, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, who are both black women, spoke out about racist treatment in the office.

Pinterest’s growing reputation for gender bias may include its job listings. As shown in our data, the percentage of masculine bias in Pinterest’s listings is increasing, reaching a high of 63% in November. A 50% bias, in this chart, means job listings use an equal amount of female and male-coded language, while a 100% bias would mean completely male-coded language. But how is job listing gender bias calculated in the first place, and who decides which words are biased?

According to a 2011 study, wording in job listings sustains gender inequality. Researchers found that listings with male-coded words deterred women from applying, and female-coded words deterred men from applying. The terms “male-coded” and “female-coded” refer to specific words that previous research has proven to be associated with men or women. For example, some male-coded words in the study include: “aggressive,” “dominant,” “fearless,” “independent,” “self-confident,” and “courageous.” Female-coded words, however, look more like this: “affectionate,” “nurturing,” “empathetic,” “kind,” “loyal,” “quiet,” “warm,” and “submissive.” Although the list goes on, these words can make or break an applicant’s decision to apply. 

The researchers found, through a random pool of job listings, that male-dominated industries tended to include male-coded words in their listings, while female-dominated industries tended to remain neutral. The study concluded that a sense of belongingness was more important to applicants than a good skills match in a company.

Our data on Pinterest is sourced from a site that screens for the words listed in the study. The site, Gender Decoder for Job Ads, was created by a developer named Kat Matfield, who listed the study as her main source of inspiration for creating the screener. Pinterest’s job listings, on the whole, have kept its masculine bias rating below 50%, meaning the company skewed towards female-coded words. Since 2020, however, the trend has reversed.

Companies have used similar tools to ensure their applications remain gender neutral, and job sites from Glassdoor to ZipRecruiter offer tips on how to avoid gender-biased language. For example, some other words that tend to target male applicants include “ninja,” “rockstar,” “superhero,” and “guru.” Regardless of whether or not a company agrees with words on these lists, keeping a job description gender-neutral can get the highest caliber of talent to apply, including those who are male, female, or non-binary.

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