Decoding Gender

Is your job advertisement written in gender-neutral language? Kat Matfield has the code to find out.

Enter Gender Decoder, a Web-based service that determines if a job description is written in subtle, “gender-coded” language.

Matfield, whose day job is as head of product for London-based event firm Silicon Milkroundabout, said she came up with the idea after reading a blog post showing that many job descriptions are written in gender-centric language. The post also discussed the idea of manually screening the postings for such language.

“This struck me as the kind of thing computers could do better than humans,” Matfield said, prompting her to create Gender Decoder one weekend.

Using the service is simple: Write in a job advertisement while the program splits text into individual words and compares them with a list of research-based gender-coded words.

A masculine-focused job description for a leadership role, for instance, might use words such as “confidence” and “decisiveness,” implying that leaders should challenge their team to excel or “beat aggressive targets.”

A more feminine post, on the other hand, might say, “the leader supports and enables their team, is sensitive and inclusive, and gets their team to work together cooperatively,” Matfield said. 

Postings with gendered language like these could lead fewer women to apply for masculine-coded advertisements, Matfield said, because they “feel less like they’d belong in that role and work environment.” She added that gender-coded job descriptions might not have the same effect on men.

Matfield said talent managers should use the tool “to double-check that ads aren’t inadvertently discouraging a diverse range of applicants.”